By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now
Craig Abbas was a tough Marine, so much so, that he remained one for 20 years. He’s faced many challenges throughout his 58 years of life, like being deployed during the Gulf War and dealing with the heartbreak and disappointment of being laid off. He wasn’t afraid of hard work, earning and making a living by the sweat of his brow. He also wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty—whether he worked on bomber planes in the military or did some welding.
He almost recently died from a crush injury on his right thigh. Not too long ago, he was working at his shop on a section of heavy fencing that fell on him. Since Abbas had a knee replacement a few years prior, he wanted to get his knee checked out to make sure it was fine. He sought medical attention, and it was determined things were OK.
But, they weren’t. The injury became worse and worse, much like the sinking Titanic that appeared fine for a while, but then ended up causing a lot of damage.
“I was tougher in the Marine Corps,” Abbas said Wednesday afternoon from his bed at Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita. “This has literally been a fight for my life. I’ve never been in a position before where I’ve come that close to death. I don’t know if this has bought me 20 days or 20 years, but I’m going to use the time as best I can.”
Teams of health-care professionals at St. Francis saved his life, including a kidney team, infection team, heart team, trauma team, infection control and necrology teams.
After seeking medical attention the first time, things got worse.
“I was just weak as a kitten,” the Newton resident said. “Every joint in my body hurt.”
He returned for more medical treatment, and they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Abbas said there were days he couldn’t go to work.
It was finally determined all of this was caused by an infection in his right thigh that showed no outward signs of infection because everything was contained in the thigh. Then, it spread to his calf, rearing its ugly head as huge purple blisters.
“I kept going to my doctor and saying something is draining my energy,” said Abbas, who does realize there’s a reason why doctors say “they’re practicing medicine.” It’s not an exact science, and they work hard to help.
Things became really bad on Sept. 9.
“I looked at my wife and said, ‘I feel like I’m going to die,’” Abbas said. “Take me to (get medical attention). When I say that, something’s terribly wrong. Got to the (medical facility), and I told them, ‘I feel horrible. I literally feel like I’m going to die.’”
There, they X-rayed his thigh, as Abbas told them there was a big lump there. They determined his white-blood cell count was greater than 30, and a normal white-cell count is from 5 to 10. They told him that means his body’s immune system was attacking his body. They gave him some steroids and sent him home. However, the next day, his leg swelled three times its normal size, and he sought medical attention again, although he said he also was delirious. He was checked for blood clots, and none were found. The next day, he called his doctor’s office and told the nurse his symptoms. The nurse immediately told him to go to St. Francis now.
“When the nurse said get to St. Francis, get there now, that literally saved my life because I should have been in critical care,” Abbas said.
As Abbas’ wife, DeVon, drove him to Wichita, he started to lose his sight.
“I said, ‘Hurry, hurry, I’m going blind,’” Abbas said he told her.
Abbas was pretty much blind by the time they arrived at St. Francis, and then he said for the next week and a half, he can’t really recall anything—that is, except he believes he was in purgatory, defined as “a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven,” by dictionary.com.
It was determined Abbas was in renal failure, and his heart rate was higher than 200 beats per minute for 11 hours. The infection had spread through his body like a gangrenous spider. Medical personnel were on deck with heart paddles, if they were needed, but the medication started to work, so paddles weren’t used. In addition, he had to get dialysis, and one of his doctors, Dr. Ronnie Moussa, got his kidneys working and heart stable.
“I owe him my life,” Abbas said, choking up. “He said to my wife, ‘We’re going to save his kidneys, and then we’re going to save his life.’”
Abbas spent 38 days in intensive care at St. Francis before being moved to Newton Medical Center on Wednesday night. His insurance company told him he could no longer stay at St. Francis, and they allowed him to check into Newton Medical Center, where he’s getting great care.
Before he was transferred, however, he ended up having six surgeries by Dr. Thomas Resch, who removed part of his calf and muscles in his thigh. The majority of the infection was in Abbas’ upper thigh. After dealing with his right calf, Resch turned his attention to the right thigh, that was full of puss.
“It was a God-awful mess,” Abbas said, adding the injury killed the thigh muscle and that once they opened his quad, the muscle had turned gangrene and was brown and green.
“It was pretty bad,” Abbas said.
Resch removed Abbas’ quad and sartorius muscles, and two tendons were rotted.
“To be honest with you, I was at death’s door,” he said.
After six surgeries, Resch was able to get all the necrotic tissue removed.
“He saved every bit he could,” Abbas said. “Everybody here at St. Francis has worked to save my life. I just don’t know what to say. They treat me like I’m family. I owe ’em.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Abbas’ insurance company said they’d allow him to move to NMC, where he now has a private room, and they were going to renew his stay there every five days. However, as of Thursday, the company had given Abbas 20 days inpatient at NMC. At first, the insurance company wanted to send Abbas home on Wednesday, but changed their minds.
They procured a hospital bed for Abbas, and DeVon scrubbed down the house to make it more sterile, all the while with her holding down a full-time job, visiting her husband in the hospital and keeping friends and family updated. She’s exhausted.
Abbas said he told the insurance company they didn’t understand what was going on with him—this wasn’t just a flesh wound on his finger. He has a 6- by 12-inch gaping hole in his thigh, which can’t be closed now. He asked the company if he could move to another room at St. Francis for wound care, and they said no. They told him he could get home health or a medical swing bed or skilled nursing at NMC. A swing bed is a room that can be used for medical or skilled nursing, Abbas said.
“There’s no way they can close it,” Abbas said. “There’s just too much gone.”
Right now, his leg is attached to a wound vac down to his calf, which removes unpleasant things, like necrotic tissue. Abbas said he needs skilled nursing just because of the wound vac. He’s also concerned about getting another infection, so he’s glad he’s at NMC.
“I want to be in a sterile environment so I don’t get an infection,” he said. “It has been quite the experience. I don’t ever want to do that again.”
Abbas said it’ll be from four to six months before the wound can be closed and a skin graft attempted.
“It’s been quite an ordeal,” Abbas said.
The ordeal began, however, not when the fence toppled over on him, but a few weeks before that when he was laid off at his job. He was going to have back surgery, and the company just offered him severance pay. Although he does have insurance, there are bills to pay. A GoFundMe page has been set up for him at www.gofundme.com/us-vet-needs-help-help-save-a-hero. As of Thursday afternoon, a total of $4,355 of the $10,000 goal had been raised.
“If you can, please help the outrageous medical bills he is accruing to save his life, for him, his wife, his kids and grandkids,” is written on the GoFundMe page. “Please let’s show this country that we support and defend our vets, just like they did for our country.”
Abbas said the GoFundMe page was started for him by a friend, Rick Park, whom Abbas recruited into the military and helped him get his life together. Now, it’s Park’s turn to help Abbas.
“I became so close to him,” Abbas said. “He said, ‘I always looked to you as a father.’”
When Abbas starting helping Park out, Park was 17, and Abbas was 26.
“He wasn’t just a contract,” Abbas said. “He became my friend.”
It seems Abbas and his wife have a lot of friends, as there’s practically one wall in his hospital room decorated with all the cards he’s received.
They’ve made friends in the military, high school and through work, and they have their rock concert friends, as they like to go to rock concerts. Abbas enjoys ’80s rock and old hair bands, and one of his friends, Greg Hanson, was in Abbas’ NMC hospital room visiting him on Thursday, teasing him by playing a tune from the Carpenters.
Maybe that’s a kind of purgatory for Abbas. However, he does believe he actually went to the place between Earth and heaven during that week and a half.
“It seemed real,” he said—not like a dream. “I fought, and I fought hard. Too many people were trying to kill me. I was pretty much out of it after getting to St. Francis.”
He said he was in a dark place, an open wasteland where nothing was living.
“I was constantly fighting, battling,” he said. “People were coming up and putting cellophane or plastic over my face.”
At one point, he said, he was shoved into a stone coffin.
“I fought and fought and fought,” he said. “Finally, in my mind, it clicked. I thought, ‘Craig, you died. That must be it, and this must be purgatory.”
Then, he noticed a faint light in the top left of his vision.
“Finally, I took off running for it,” he said. “As I got closer, I was lifted up to it. I was able to put my hand in it, and I said, ‘God, please help me.’ The next thing I remembered is I woke in the hospital, and my wife was sitting next to me.”
Getting through this ordeal, Abbas said the staff at St. Francis worked so hard to save his life.
“I cannot say enough about those guys,” he said, adding he also attributes getting through this experience to his wife.
“I’ve got to give it to my wife, DeVon,” he said. “I would be totally lost without her. She’d done so much to help me, support me, giving me a reason to live.”