Jacksonville man nearly dies from flesh-eating bacteria

Man says he caught it from doctor's office during vasectomy procedure

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thirty-year-old Byron Lewis says he went in to have a vasectomy shortly before his wife was due to give birth to their second son. It was May 7th of this year.

He says he was healthy and feeling fine the day of the procedure, which he says was performed in his doctor's office.

"A couple of days later I was still in a lot of pain and I was noticing my right testicle was getting larger," says Lewis.

He says he went back to the doctor.

"He told me everything is perfectly fine, nothing is wrong. Keep you feet elevated, put ice on it and you'll be fine. But the next day it got worse," says Lewis.

Again he returned to the doctor and again he says he was told he was fine. Even though he says by this time his testicle was the size of a large egg.

"He prescribed me antibiotics, but that didn't work. I went to the emergency room by ambulance because I couldn't walk," says Lewis.

He says the ER found fluid in the area where he had surgery, but says the ER told him to return to his urologist for treatment.

Lewis says he did that and was told, "it was fine, sometime things happen like this. It will go down in a couple of days just do what I tell you and day off your feet."

Lewis says he had done exactly what the doctor had told him to do when he had the vasectomy. He says he stayed off his feet and used cold packs for the pain. He says, by now his testicle was the size of a large tangerine.

Lewis says he felt like the doctor thought he was trying to get pain pills and was not taking his condition seriously. He says he went back to the emergency room, but again was referred back to his doctor.

Jennifer Waugh asked him, "At what point did you realize this was a terrible infection? When I went to the emergency room for the 3rd time the lady zoomed in and said, oh my God, you are so full of infection it's spreading all upwards to your lower abdominal area. It's all in your thigh area, all in your side," says Lewis.

He says an infectious disease diagnosed it as flesh-eating bacteria.

"It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me in my life," says Lewis.

"I had a child that was going to be born July 3rd and know that this right here was going to take my life?   It was the scariest feeling," says Lewis.

His wife, Pairis was 8 months pregnant. Crying she told Jennifer, "to have a diagnosis of flesh-eating bacteria you just see peoples' bodies disappear. Everything cut off, that's what i thought was going to happen. You try to have faith, but how do you do that with this diagnosis?"

Lewis was given only a 20% chance to live. He spent two months in the hospital and says he underwent 16 surgeries to cut out the bacteria. He says his infectious disease doctor used a hyperbaric chamber to fight the bacteria. He says if his urologist had not rejected his complaints of pain for two weeks, he believes the infection would have been caught earlier.

Jennifer interviewed Dr. Mobeen Rathore, an infectious disease doctor at Shands. He has never treated Lewis and talked with Jennifer in general about how flesh-eating bacteria is spread.

"Staph and Strep is on everyone's skin. It's on your skin, it's on my skin. You never really get rid of it," says Dr. Rathore.

If a staph infection is untreated, he says it can turn into necrotizing fasciitis, which is the medical term for flesh-eating bacteria. "The germs are unfortunately very smart. They've been around much longer than you and me have been and they survive. They're very survivable," the doctor says.

Jennifer asked him, "Can a germ live in a doctor's office? On a scalpel?" He answered, "the germ can live anywhere, the germ mostly lives on our bodies."

Dr. Rathore says there are risks during any medical procedure. In general, he says anyone considering surgery should talk with their physician about whether the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks.

If you are considering surgery, it's always a good idea to talk with your doctor about how medical tools are sterilized, if you are concerned. You should also tell your doctor if you have ever been treated for an infection that is resistant to antibiotics. We should point out, that Lewis says he was healthy and feeling fine when he went in for the procedure.

Channel 4 is not naming the urologist who performed Lewis' vasectomy since there is no way of knowing for sure if Lewis caught the bacteria from the doctor's office.

Jennifer Waugh did call his office. An office manager told her over the phone that the office sterilizes all of its equipment and cannot comment on Lewis' treatment citing a federal law that requires patient confidentiality.

Lewis was released from the hospital a day before his son Cameron was born. He still has not been able to touch his baby. While he is home recovering, he has in-home medical care to change his dressings as his open wounds continue to heal. He sleeps on his couch to avoid infecting his wife. He also cannot have any contact with his 5 year-old son.

"It broke me down. He was coming to give me a hug and I had to tell him you can't touch me. You can't touch me yet. It's been very difficult," says Lewis.

Lewis says he has consulted an attorney, but no lawsuit has been filed yet. He says he's certain he caught the flesh-eating virus from his doctor's office.

His wife says, "I hope his (her husband) body could return to normal and that he could be who he was before, which is a great husband and great dad. But I don't know, I don't know I haven't seen him walk or anything. I just hope he can be here with his child."

Byron Lewis has not been able to work and his wife had to take a month off from work to care for him. If you'd like to help the family, you can reach out to them by emailing Pairism@gmail.com.

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.