He spent the last two weeks with excruciating pain, falling in and out of an induced coma, but every day is a good day for Rik Downer.
The Sooke father of two is grateful to be alive.
Just over two weeks ago, Downer hit his knee on a car door. It hurt, and it quickly bruised, but he didn’t think much of it. He assumed it would heal, like most minor blunt traumas do, in a matter of days.
But that night his leg began to swell. Within hours, it was swollen, hard and felt like “there was battery acid beneath his skin.”
“It felt like, even just to slightly brush it, it was like fire,” he said.
The next morning he went to the hospital, thinking he might need a prescription or a knee brace. But when doctors saw his leg, Downer was suddenly put in an ambulance and rushed from Victoria General Hospital to the Royal Jubilee Hospital for surgery.
“I wasn’t even out of the ambulance when I got here, and they were already collecting samples from my leg for the CDC (Centre for Disease Control),” Downer said. “They told me it was necrotizing fasciitis.”
|“I never thought bumping my knee could kill me,” said Rik Downer. The Sooke man has been in hospital for two weeks after contracting flesh-eating bacteria. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)|
Necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease, or flesh-eating bacteria, rapidly destroys skin, fat and tissue. Described by HealthLink BC as “extremely rare but serious,” the deadly infection is fast-spreading and can lead to organ failure if untreated. Many people with the infection have limbs or organs amputated to save their lives.
“They didn’t know if I was going to live. That’s all they could tell me,” Downer recalled. “Just like on TV when the guy is on the gurney, all I see are the lights going by, and they’re shoving a tube down my throat.”
Downer said he was put into an induced coma and received five surgeries in less than six days. He was occasionally woken for doctors to ask questions.
“I just wanted to see my wife. I was scared. I really was,” he said through tears.
But on the sixth day, Downer was brought out of the coma. Doctors told him he would likely live, and they were shifting focus on trying to save his leg.
Two weeks later, Downer is still in the hospital, receiving treatment to build back tissue in his leg. He yet doesn’t know exactly how he got the flesh-eating bacteria but believes the bump on the car door – which didn’t break the skin – was a catalyst for the infection.
“I’m just glad to be alive,” he said. “It’s going to be a little more of a journey getting back to somewhat normal, but it’s better than being under the dirt.”
Necrotizing fasciitis is rare, but Downer hopes his experience helps other people pay attention to their bodies.
“I never thought bumping my knee could kill me,” he said. “If it doesn’t look right, go to the hospital.”