WARNING: Graphic Images
Hallucinations caused by flesh-eating bacteria resulted in a man becoming convinced he had committed murder.
Bob Ackley, 60, contracted the life-threatening bug necrotizing fasciitis last year after his immune system was weakened by the stress of being made redundant.
When the infection spread from Ackley’s arm down the right hand side of his body, his wife Joann, 54, was warned he may not survive.
“I was hooked up to all these drips, with tubes up my nose and in my veins,” Ackley said.
“I was so heavily medicated that I began hallucinating, believing I was being held until I could go on trial for murder, which was obviously not true.
“I planned to sneak out in the middle of the night even though I couldn’t actually move from my hospital bed.”
Ackley, of Philadelphia, United States, was struck by the illness in June 2014. At the time, he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for hepatitis C.
This, combined with the stress of his recent redundancy, weakened his immune system and caused him to catch the flesh-eating bug.
A week and a half after his job loss, Ackley was at home, emailing CVs to potential employers when his right arm began to swell at an alarming rate.
He raced to his local emergency room, where medics immediately referred him to Crozure-Chester Medical Centre’s unit specialising in necrotizing fasciitis treatment.
“I was very heavily medicated and don’t remember a lot of the next two weeks,” Ackley said.
“Apparently my wife was told to start making end of life decisions for me and fly my family out to say goodbye.
“They even sent a priest to my room to read me my last rites. I was so confused that I told him to go away.”
Ackley underwent five major surgeries in total, including slicing his arm to prevent it splitting due to the rapid spread of the infection.
His body was pumped full of antibiotics 24 hours a day as medics battled to discover a combination of drugs that the bacteria was not resistant to.
Initially, it was feared the bug would cost Ackley his entire arm, but doctors eventually managed to stave the infection by removing just a quarter of it.
He also had the right side of his torso opened up so surgeons could remove as much of the bacteria as possible.
Whilst Ackley fought for his life, his wife kept a vigil at his bedside.
“Every time I woke up, my wife was there,” he said. “She prayed over my bed and put calls and Facebook posts requesting others pray for me too.
“Her page flooded in with messages from all these people from all over the world.
“After each surgery, my doctors told me they’d never seen anybody respond more positively and heal as quickly and I firmly believe part of that was prayer.
“When I didn’t know whether I’d pull through, I made my peace with dying.
“I got to the point where I said to God, ‘If it’s time for me to go, let’s go – but if not I’d like to stick around because never been so happy in my life and I’m married to the best woman in the world’.”
Throughout his hospital stay, Ackley kept in close contact with his niece Shannon, 34, who’d battled the illness herself eight years previously.
He spent so long in bed recovering that he forgot how to walk.
“I literally forgot how to put one foot in front of the other,” he recalled. “The first day I got out of bed I took eight steps and that was as far as I could go. The next day was 12.”
After five weeks, Ackley was discharged from hospital. He returned three months later to thank the staff that saved his life.
Now, he has 95% use of his arm, but his cognitive ability and short-term memory have been affected with what he describes as a “brain fog".
He spoke out in a bid to raise awareness about necrotizing fasciitis and the devastating effects it can have.
“I’ve known people that have lost legs, limbs and lives to this disease,” he said. “So I have a lot of passion towards raising public awareness of it.”
Ackley has also found new work with non-profit organisations Philibundance and Elwyn, who deal with hunger relief and intellectual disability respectively.
He said: “I am convinced the reason I’m alive is because God wanted me to do what I do in these organisations where I can give back.
“Life couldn’t be better for me today.”