Flesh-Eating Disease Lands Man in Same Hospital as Aimee Copeland

VIDEO: Robert Vaughn was hospitalized after being cut in a landscaping accident.
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A Georgia landscaper is battling flesh-eating disease at the same Augusta hospital as Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old student who lost her leg to the deadly infection.

Robert Vaughn, 32, contracted necrotizing fasciitis after cutting on his thigh while trimming weeds May 4, three days after Aimee Copeland sliced open her calf falling from a homemade zip line near the Little Tallapoosa River.

Vaughn went to a hospital in Cartersville, Ga., where doctors gave him a prescription for antibiotics and recommended he stay for observation, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. But Vaughn, "being the man that I am," went home and watched the painful gash swell from the size of a peanut to that of a grapefruit.

He returned the next day and underwent emergency surgery.

"It was that bad," he told the newspaper, describing how doctors removed some of the infected flesh and sent him to Doctor's Hospital in Augusta for more surgeries. "They told me I was close to death."

It took five surgeries to remove more than two pounds of tissue infected by bacteria that burrowed deep into Vaughn's wound.

"The bacteria produce enzymes that can dissolve muscle deep down," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "And because it's so deep, it can be a sneaky infection that's not immediately appreciated by the patient."

The symptom that should ring alarm bells, according to Schaffner, is "serious, unremitting pain."

"An otherwise healthy individual with a seemingly superficial injury who has severe pain should have a much more thorough evaluation," he said.

Indeed Vaughn said the pain was so bad he "could hardly move," the AJC reported.

Vaughn is expected to undergo skin grafts today to replace some of the tissue removed during surgery.

"They have to rebuild my groin area," he told the AJC. "But I'm feeling much better now."

Vaughn was at one point next door to Copeland, who is slowly recovering from the infection that claimed her left leg and threatens to take her right foot and both hands. The two cases occurred 54 miles apart.

"Ironic? I don't know what the right word is," Jeff Buzhardt, Vaughn's brother-in-law, told ABC News.

Copeland's infection was the work of Aeromonas hydrophila, a bacteria that thrives in warm climates and fresh water like the river where Copeland was zip lining with friends.

Doctor's Hospital spokeswoman Barclay Bishop said she couldn't comment on the cause of Vaughn's infection, stating only that he was in good condition. She added that 8.5 percent of the hospital's intensive care patients in 2011 were admitted for necrotizing fasciitis.

"It's not uncommon for us to have these kinds of patients," she said. "[Aimee Copeland's] obviously a more extreme case than what we're used to seeing, but it's not uncommon for a hospital to have this."

Vaughn is the third person to contract flesh-eating disease in Georgia in three weeks. Lana Kuykendall, 36, developed necrotizing fasciitis May 11 after giving birth to twins at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. She is reportedly in critical but stable condition.

Doctors say the cases are rare and unrelated.

To reduce the risk of necrotizing fasciitis, all wounds big and small should be immediately cleaned, treated with antimicrobial ointment and covered with sterile bandages, according to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation.

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