Warning: This article contains graphic images.
Shocking photos show how a flesh-eating bug ate a fifth of a man’s body.
Jacob Rothe developed necrotizing fasciitis (NF) in October last year following surgery on his stomach to cure acid reflux.
The surgery preceded a serious car accident 18 years earlier which had left him in intensive care for 96 days – much of it was spent in a coma.
“I had scar tissue on my stomach following the smash,” the father-of-four said. “But the surgeon examined me and said I was suitable for a laparoscopic lesion to cure the reflux.
“A laparoscopic lesion is pretty simple to explain; the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around your oesophagus and sewn into place.”
On 14 October 2014, he entered a local hospital in Rolla, Missouri, where he lives, for the relatively simple surgery.
But he did not wake up and his oxygen levels started to fall. After green pus started seeping from his wounds he underwent a second round of surgery.
“Doctors opened me up and noticed a tear on my small intestine,” he said. “They packed me up and it was assumed I was better.”
But within hours the 36-year-old's condition had become far worse.
Three days after the initial surgery he was airlifted to a larger hospital in Columbia, Missouri, 100 miles away.
There, medics realised he had necrotizing fasciitis (NF) and took urgent action to cut the diseased skin from his body.
He was being eaten alive as he was being prepped for surgery.
The flesh-eating bug was eating him alive
“The doctor who looked after me was a war vet and had seen examples of NF before so he knew what it was,” he said.
“But he said he hadn’t seen anything so severe. He was alarmed at how quickly it was spreading.
“He contacted my mother Valerie and told her, ‘We’re getting him into surgery. We can’t wait for you to get here'.”
It is believed Rothe, who works in sales, developed the illness from the tear in his intestine.
“I was literally being eaten alive by the NF,” Rothe continued. “Not that I realised it. I was very, very ill.
“I was suffering from delusions. I thought the nurse and security guard were in cahoots and were trying to kill me.
“I remember thinking that I had woken on the surgery table and was being held hostage and they were cutting off bits of my skin to send as ransom. “I though, ‘What about if they get to my privates?’"
In the end medics cut away nearly 20% of his body including his leg, buttocks and right hand side.
There were discussions they would have to slice off his genitals. Thankfully they were saved.
“I’m so pleased,” Rothe said. “But I knew they did what they had to. I was in hospital nearly a month and nearly passed. Doctors and family thought I would die. But I was saved."
After the infection was cut out, Rothe had surgery on his head and back. Skin was grafted from these areas onto the wounds on his body.
Rothe pictured in his hospital bed
During this period he had to eat around 4,500 calories a day to build up his strength. But he was still nauseous from his ordeal, so relied on protein shakes – which he quickly tired of.
Luckily the skin grafts took well.
He continued: “I’d had scars for years – after the crash when I was 17 – but this was different.
“Whereas previously I had suffered just scars, now I was missing whole chunks of my body. It was pretty traumatic to look at.”
But despite his ordeal, Rothe feels fortunate. “I could have died,” he said. “I was so fortunate I didn’t. Realistically, I made it out of all this relatively unscathed.
“While the wound is pretty large and nasty looking I didn’t lose any limbs, didn’t damage any internal organs and didn’t suffer any detriment to my private parts.
“I don’t remember the pain that so many others have suffered when they contracted NF, the drug-induced coma those first critical days carried me through the most of it.
“I don’t suffer from a massive amount of ongoing pain now that I’m healed. Yes, it can be painful sometimes, especially if I’m bumped into or touched."
“Some days are more sensitive than others and it’s a pain when the lotion wears off and it starts to dry out but, all that is more than survivable," he said.
“More importantly, I wasn’t hit with depression or anxiety or any other type of mental anguish a life-altering injury like this can cause. Sure, it hit my self confidence some and I’m still working through some of the hallucinations the needed drugs caused.
“But all-in-all I feel like I came out of this far less unscathed than it could have been.
“I had an amazing group of doctors in Columbia to whom I owe my life. I cannot thank them enough for their quick actions and stellar care during my stay.
“I’m blessed to have this life, to have more time to spend with my children. I’m blessed to have an incredible family that literally never left my side through this entire process and that has supported me through so much.
"I’m blessed with a multitude of friends who sent well wishes, came to visit me, and made sure to make sure I knew how incredibly loved I am.
“I am blessed with this life and so many great people in it, that I can only be thankful.”