Kauai man fighting flesh-eating bacteria transferred to Oahu

Janice Bond and John Stem.
Janice Bond and John Stem.
Joe Elm
Joe Elm

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

LIHUE (HawaiiNewsNow) - A man on Kauai is fighting a rare case of flesh-eating bacteria that is spreading rapidly.

Lihue resident John Stem, 49, was found unconscious Saturday morning and was in the intensive care unit at Wilcox Memorial Hospital. Stem has since been transferred to an Oahu hospital for treatment.

"His eyes had rolled back and he was foaming, had difficulty breathing, so I called 911," said his mother Janice Bond. She had gone to his home after he stopped answering his phone.

"John was here from Saturday morning and he's had major surgery Saturday, Sunday, Monday and in ICU they've cut tissue away every day since, including today," Bond said. "But yesterday they had him breathing on his own. He's a fighter, but I don't think he's aware of the extent of what they have done to him."

Stem is now in stable condition. "On Wednesday his breathing tubes were removed," Bond said. "He had a full dinner last night and he's on his way to recovery, but because of the major portions that have been removed, he needs to be seen on Oahu."

According to Bond, Stem will need more reconstructive surgery and therapy on Oahu.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said there are about 100 cases a year of the severe form of necrotizing fasciitis. Medical experts said the disease is not contagious. Instead, what causes people like Stem to get sick are bacteria that enter the skin.

"Usually, there's a trauma," said epidemiological specialist Joe Elm. "A cut, or maybe a severe bruise that gets infected with one of these organisms, and it gets into the deep fascia. And then when it multiples it produces toxins and proteases that allow it to travel really fast."

Elm said those bacteria can be found in brown water and other flood waters, which have been in abundance on the Garden Isle during the past several days. The bacteria then wreak havoc beneath the skin.

"In the case of these rapidly growing ones, the bacteria just sort of grow unchecked for a sufficient period of time to really cause damage to muscle and the fascia, and sometimes even the bone," said Elm.

"It had started moving upwards on his chest, but the yare hoping that they can curtail the disease," said Bond.

Health officials said there are signs that a cut can be infected.

"When it gets sore, unreasonably sore for the cut that it is, or it's hot, or you start getting a fever, it's time to seek medical care," Elm said.

Doctors say it is very important to treat any cuts before going into the ocean or coming into contact with flood water, which Bond believes happened to her son last week. The experts say there's an easy way to prevent the disease, especially when swimming in the ocean.

"When you get out of the water, take a shower. Rinse off, get rid of those of those organisms," Elm said.

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