Local man fighting flesh-eating bacteria

Craig Abbas of Newton, right, prays with Newton Medical Center Chaplain Les Jackson on Friday at the hospital. Wendy Nugent/Newton Now

Editor’s note: This is the second of a several-part series on Craig Abbas and his journey with his crush injury.

By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now

It was glorious. Craig Abbas took one lick and then another of his vanilla soft-serve ice yogurt cone. Even though he probably couldn’t sit up straight very well, he enjoyed every bit of the sugary, smooth, delectable treat, even though he had a large, gaping wound in his thigh.

“That’s the best damn ice cream cone I ever had,” Abbas said, resting in the critical care unit Thursday at Newton Medical Center.

He had just been dismissed from St. Francis in Wichita, and his wife, DeVon, was driving him to Newton Medical Center, where his care was being transferred to a swing bed. Abbas had been at St. Francis for 38 days, and he wasn’t real sure about the care he’d receive at his hometown hospital. However, he’s really happy with the care and doesn’t want to go anywhere else, well, except maybe home.

“I had to drive really slow because he was trying to eat it fast, but to get from Braum’s to here didn’t take very long,” DeVon said.

Abbas and various medical teams have been battling an infection in his right leg following a crush injury not too long ago. It took a while for medical professionals to figure out he had an infection, as Abbas had no fever because the infection was contained in his thigh. It progressively got worse. On Sept. 9, Abbas told his wife he felt like he was going to die. His wife ended up driving him to St. Francis, and on the trip there, the 58-year-old started to lose his sight. His kidneys were shutting down.

“I’ll tell you that’s the scariest damn thing: when I was going blind,” Abbas said.

While at St. Francis, teams of health-care professionals saw to his care as he underwent several operations.

When Abbas was released from St. Francis, DeVon had to drive him to NMC because his health insurance company said an ambulance ride “wasn’t medically necessary,” DeVon said, even though her husband had a huge gaping hole in his leg.

Since he was admitted to NMC, Abbas’s wound is twice as big as it was because his doctor, Dr. John McEachern, has been chasing the infection, which has been difficult to eradicate.

Earlier, though, when Abbas was eating his refreshing cone, little did he know he had at least one more battle in store. On Friday, the infectious disease doctor said they found something else.

“We just got some discouraging news this morning,” DeVon wrote on Facebook. “Craig’s infectious disease doc came in and told us that she has determined that Craig has necrotizing fasciitis, which is known to most people as flesh-eating [bacteria]. So […] they are going to start him on four more IV antibiotics. If it keeps tunneling up into his abdomen area, they will have to take the leg to save him.”

On Monday, Abbas had his 12th surgery. He still has his leg.

“Craig is out of surgery, and all went well,” DeVon wrote on Facebook on Monday. “Doc said there are still a few spots of necrotic tissue that he is concerned about, but they are important areas for the integrity of the leg, so he is trying to take as little tissue as possible in those areas. He did say he thinks things look a lot better in the knee area. He saw no new areas of concern there, so he will probably try to close the knee on Thursday.”

The remainder of the wound, which was 4-1/2 inches wide by 16 inches long on Thursday, isn’t ready to be closed. Abbas will get surgery every Monday and Thursday until it’s clear, DeVon wrote.

When Abbas arrived at NMC a few weeks ago, McEachern had some news for the Abbas couple.

“McEachern said the dead tissue and infection was still hiding in the leg,” Abbas said, as well as in the knee and up to the hip.

“He went into this hip,” Abbas said. “I think when he gets up to here [Abbas motioned with his hand by his neck area], I’m gonna stop.”

On Thursday, Abbas said the doctor was pretty confident they were 90 percent there in getting the dead tissue out.

The following Friday, after Abbas arrived at NMC (he’s been there for several weeks), the wound vac nurse did his first vac change, and she also did it on Monday. During that time, she saw “a few things in there,” Abbas said, and she asked the doctor to look at it on Monday. The doctor found a bunch of infection and dead tissue in his right hip. Abbas said he told the doctor to do what he could to save his life and his leg.

“It had kind of a month and a half to migrate and tunnel,” Abbas said, adding he also told the doctor he was kind of partial to his leg, so to please save it.

Abbas also said he had asked the doctor to check his hip.

“I said, ‘Something’s going on,’” Abbas said. “He said, “Yep, there’s something up there.’”

Surgery was on a Wednesday, and the health insurance company hadn’t pre-approved it. The doctor and hospital said they’d take care of it, and the hospital reported it in as an emergency surgery to insurance.

“I love the whole crew here,” Abbas said about NMC. “They’re just phenomenal.”

When the dead tissue is out, there’s more that needs to be done.

“Then [the doctor] has a device that he is going to use to try to get the leg closed up,” DeVon wrote on Faceboook. “It will stretch the skin with tension, and they will keep tightening it regularly until they can get it close enough for skin grafts. Lower leg calf also needing skin graft when all infection is gone. Overall, Doc says today he did see improvement, just not the instant gratification we were all hoping for.”

His wounds are packed with foam, and there are three wound vacs.

Also in Abbas’s room on Thursday, in addition to the wound vacs, were cards from well-wishers on his wall and an essential-oil diffuser filled with a mixture used for healing that had lemongrass and frankincense in it.

“Hey, at this point, I’ll try anything,” said Abbas, who looks quite tired but is quick to greet visitors with a smile.

To help keep his spirits up, he watches TV.

“I sit here and flip through reruns of reruns,” he said, adding a nurse asked him one time what he was watching. “I just wanna watch something that makes me laugh,” he said he told her.

Also, he wants the lights on in his room because he “doesn’t want to be in a cave.”

He’s tired, but he’s far from being down for the count. There are other fights, as well, such as with the health insurance company, which made him transfer out of St. Francis and was initially going to send him home to die, Abbas said.

“You don’t pick a fight with a Marine and expect him to shut up,” Abbas said.

The bill the Abbas couple received from St. Francis is a little less than half a million dollars.

“We have no idea what they’re going to pay yet,” DeVon said about the insurance company. “We’re mad at them for kicking him out and not [initially] providing adequate care.”

DeVon said the insurance company gives them the run-around when she calls, adding they “conveniently” hang up when it’s something they don’t want to answer and won’t give her a direct-line number to call the same person back, and they refuse to call her back if they get cut off.

One day, DeVon and her husband were trying to guess how much money his life would be worth in terms of what the insurance company would pay, and they guessed half a million dollars, DeVon said. It’s at that point in billing when the insurance company wanted to send Abbas home. The insurance company changed its mind, however.

He might be dead right now if that had happened.

“It only takes one to come back and kill me,” Abbas said about an infection pocket and that the insurance company forced St. Francis to release him.

“The insurance company forced St. Francis’s hand,” Abbas said, but he does see a silver lining. “I’m kind of glad because of the second set of eyes and renewed concern for saving my leg and saving my life.”

Another silver lining is Abbas is learning how much he’s impacted other people’s lives, like when he was in the Marines. One guy he knows from those days, Norm France, visited Abbas in the hospital and told him now he was rich because “you taught me how to pull people together as a team and lead from the front,” Abbas said, quoting France. He said he used that philosophy in every job he’s had and learned that screaming and yelling at employees doesn’t help and neither does threatening their jobs.

“It’s all how you lead,” Abbas said. “As a leader, you’re a teacher.”

At the hospital, France was prepared to write a $5,000 check to help pay medical expenses for his mentor. However, the Abbases don’t know how much they’re going to have to pay out of pocket.

“It’s beyond incredible,” Abbas said. “He’s turned up a couple of times.”

Abbas also is grateful for the care he’s received at NMC.

“She is freaking awesome,” Abbas said about Kim Harris, the wound vac nurse. “Between Dr. Pigg, Dr. Mac and Kim, they’re great. These guys here at Newton are great.”

The Abbas couple is just taking it one day at a time, hoping he’ll get to come home this month.

“I’d like him home by Thanksgiving,” DeVon said. “At this point, we’re just happy he’s alive.”

Helping

There is a Go Fund Me page set up for Abbas at www.gofundme.com/us-vet-needs-help-help-save-a-hero. Of the $10,000 they’re trying to raise, a total of $8,190 has been donated by 105 people in 23 days, as of Monday night.