|Gary Cunningham's Survivor Story|
My name is Gary and I am 48 years old. I thought this disease was made up by Steven King. I was healthy with no apparent problems until six weeks ago when I developed an unbearable pain in my right shoulder. I took a couple of Advil, went to sleep and woke up in absolutely excruciating pain. I called the doctor and he told me to continue with Advil and come in if further symptoms developed. By that night I was on Percocet. The next day I was forced to go to the Doctor, he gave me a Cortisone shot as we both thought it was a pinched nerve. By the third day I could not even undress myself. When I returned the next day to the doctors, my entire right shoulder, chest and arm was hugely swollen and had taken on a reddish/purple coloring. He immediately placed me in the hospital. They had no idea what was wrong with me for an entire day and a half. They administered heavy narcotics to me, so I do not remember any of the time that I spent at that hospital. Once my fever got above 104 degrees, a close friend of mine had me transferred to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which is the best in our area. It took them almost an additional day before they could correctly diagnosis me and immediately put me into surgery. This had already been a full four days from onset to treatment. I do not remember the first two weeks however listening to the accounts from friends, family and doctors had provided me with some of the details. The first thing I can remember is the doctor saying that he may be able to save my arm. At that point I didn't realize that I could lose it. That was my awakening. I asked him what was wrong with me; he replied that it was cellulitis. After I became upset with him, he confessed that it was necrotizing fasciitis as well. By this time it had spread the entire length of my right chest and down past my right elbow. I continued to have daily surgeries even then for the next week. I believe that I had approximately twenty though I am not sure as I am still awaiting a copy of the records.
Sometime in all of this, I am not sure when, I had to be placed on dialysis as my kidneys had shut down. Out of my neck, I had my dialysis line, a central line and a swan-gantz line going into my heart. I had a pick line in my left arm which they used to administer massive doses of antibiotics. I had a great deal of difficulty breathing and if I talked for several minutes, it took me about two hours to recover. I could not cough up anything and felt my throat closing at times. I was given hyper baric treatment and after the next surgery they told me there was no more necrotizing tissue. It was then, three weeks later, that I finally started the healing process. Little by little the lines where removed from my body as they each grew unnecessary. At that point I looked at my arm as they were changing the dressing, and I only could see an artery extending from my shoulder to my elbow with no apparent muscle and a scar with staples running along my chest. I felt so weak, having very little energy. I asked the doctor if I was going to live. He replied that he was trying the best he could but there were no guarantees. The good news was that the tissue had stopped dissolving. I left the hospital after five weeks and had dialysis up until a few days before my discharge. They scheduled an appointment for the next week, saying it was possible that I might have to continue with dialysis for the rest of my life. I was upset at this and the doctor responded by saying that two weeks ago none of my surgical team thought I would be alive. He said to be thankful it was now just my kidney. It was then that I began to cry and feel the full impact of what had just taken place and what I was in store for during recovery. I've now been out of the hospital for a little over a week. My kidneys are improved and I am slowing gaining back the seventy pounds that I had lost. I can not return to work. I can not drive a car. I am basically disabled, with a nurse coming to my home daily as well as a home health aid, a physical therapist and a social worker.
As I have previously stated I am 48 years old and educated with degrees in nursing and mental health therapy. As well as being an ordained minister. I have done 14 national televised programs including Montel Williams and Ananda Lewis. I, as well as the doctors, have no idea how I contracted this bacteria, but it has drastically changed my life. I am going to live. I am going to fight. And I am going to win. I looked up this web site and with much time on my hands want to get involved with Donna for the public service announcement to educated the public as well as the medical community about this devastating disease. I will be in touch through this web site as my recovery progresses. If you with to contact me you may write to Servin11@comcast.net . Thank you for your interest in my story and I look forward to hearing replies.
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July 26, 2004