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Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care.

Unusually High Number Of Flesh-Eating Bacteria Cases Treated At THE NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER

Medical director says unit treating the patients has never had so many patients in such a short time

Jane Bisenius barely noticed the small red spot on her left arm – after all, it was only about the size of a quarter. “It wasn’t itchy, it wasn’t hot and it wasn’t inflamed,” said Bisenius. “It was like, gee, that’s funny, all of a sudden I have that blotch there.”

But just a few hours later, that small spot was the size of a softball. Bisenius soon had a fever of 104 degrees. Fortunately, her daughter, who is a doctor herself, encouraged Bisenius to seek medical attention immediately. After doctors in her hometown realized the severity of her condition, she was flown to The Nebraska Medical Center where she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria.

Although the condition is extremely rare, it is also extremely deadly. Thirty to 40 percent of people who contract the disease will die. Many more need to have limbs amputated as the bacteria quickly destroys healthy tissue and impairs the immune system. “It’s a very scary disease,” says Jeff Cooper, MD, medical director of the hyperbaric oxygen unit at The Nebraska Medical Center. “It’s very rapid. You can lose limbs as well as your life. The infection overwhelms your body and patients often die of sepsis.”

Dr. Cooper says his unit has treated six patients with the disease in the past month. “We’ve never treated so many patients for necrotizing fasciitis in such a short time,” said Dr. Cooper. Fortunately, most of the patients, like Bisenius, are doing well. “She had a marvelous turnaround,” said Dr. Cooper. “She went from being very sick and having a terrible infection to having good looking tissue in a couple of days.”

Dr. Cooper says hyperbaric oxygen therapy is one very important part of successfully treating the disease. “It forces oxygen into areas that aren’t getting adequate oxygen because of the tissue damage and swelling,” said Dr. Cooper. “This revives the immune system locally and causes the antibiotics to work more effectively.”

The Nebraska Medical Center is home to the state’s only level one hyperbaric oxygen unit. Bisenius says she’s thankful to have been treated there. “So many people who get this die, and in most cases, need some kind of amputation,” said Bisenius. “So not only to be alive, but to not have any amputation is a miracle.”