ST. JOSEPH — Doctors say Robert Jeffries is lucky to be alive. He’s learning to walk again after flesh-eating bacteria ate part of his leg.
After more than a month in the hospital, and almost a year of recovery, it’s been a unique challenge for him and the young doctor who helped him through it.
If you take a walk with Jeffries, you’ll have to be patient with him. The pain started in March 2016.
“I was helping my youngest daughter with her homework,” recalls Jeffries, “and I was sitting in an office chair. I swiveled around to help her out, and there was a little pinch behind my knee. I didn’t think nothing of it. “
Four days later, he couldn’t walk. A few weeks later, he was in a hospital bed with septic shock and failing kidneys.
“I had four surgeries in the hospital, spent 36 days in the hospital, and had a skin graft in the end to close it back up,” he says.
The diagnosis: necrotizing fasciitis.
“I couldn’t tell you how to spell it, but I know you don’t want it,” says Jeffries.
Now he can’t walk without a walking stick or someone by his side. But all things considered, he’s doing pretty well. He thanks Dr. Stephen Clark for that.
After Jeffries was saved from the edge of death, Clark helped him get his life back.
“You treat somebody in the hospital and then they go home, and sometimes you forget about them,” says Clark. “Well there’s a whole bunch of stuff they need after they get out of the hospital.”
“He’s been amazing at helping me through this,” Jeffries says.
Clark’s working on finishing his residency at Carle. All new doctors have to complete a residence before they get licensed to run their own practice. Necrotizing fasciitis wasn’t the easiest situation that could’ve been thrown his way.
“Anyone who doesn’t know medicine is probably familiar with the term, that it’s pretty rough,” says Clark.
Jeffries says missing some of his kids’ functions is tough. But he’s still alive and standing, taking everything else one step at a time.
“I’m thankful that I’m alive,” he says, “and able to at least spend the rest of my life I have with my wife and my kids.”
Clark is finishing his final year of residency at Carle. After that, he plans on working in the emergency room. His supervisor says, because they work in several departments through their first years, medical residents are in a good position to deal with cases like this.
Doctors say how Jeffries got the bacteria is a mystery, and it’s extremely rare. The CDC says between 700 and 1,100 cases are reported each year. One way to prevent it is through cleaning wounds carefully.