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A 26-Year-Old Lost His Foot After An Infection With Flesh-Eating Bacteria

Raul Reyes woke up with a swollen foot. Four days later, it was amputated to save his life. Here's what you need to know. (Warning: This post contains graphic photos.)

Posted on March 7, 2018, at 8:51 a.m. ET

Raul Reyes, a 26-year-old day care teacher in Houston, Texas, is recovering after having his foot amputated due to an infection with flesh-eating bacteria.

Photo courtesy of Joseline Reyes

When Raul Reyes woke up with a swollen foot one day in February, he and his wife, Joseline Reyes, weren't that concerned. "We thought it was weird, but I said I'd be fine and went to work," Reyes told BuzzFeed News.

Reyes continued to go to his job as a day care teacher, although his foot remained swollen and he developed a blister. It also became increasingly painful to walk, to the point where he started using crutches because he couldn't put pressure on his foot. Still, Reyes assumed it was a run-of-the-mill foot injury that would heal on its own; he never guessed it could be potentially life-threatening.

"We just treated it as a swollen foot and used remedies like hot water soaks, Epsom salts, and apple cider vinegar," Reyes said.

Three days after his foot first became swollen, Reyes noticed his sock was wet. When he took it off, he saw his foot was covered in yellowish blisters that were leaking pus and blood.

Photo courtesy of Joseline Reyes

Reyes used a napkin to dry his foot and he happened to put a small amount of pressure on a blood blister that hadn't popped. This "caused it to explode, and my skin ripped off and made a hole," Reyes said. "I told my wife and we were both freaking out." That night, he cleaned his wounds and applied a bandage made from a ripped cotton T-shirt. The next morning, Reyes called in sick and went to a clinic to get the rest of the blisters drained.

"As soon as they saw my foot they told me they couldn't do anything for me and I needed to go to the emergency room to get it taken care of because it was a flesh-eating bacteria," he said. Reyes was admitted to Ben Taub Hospital in Houston on Feb. 23.

At the hospital, doctors diagnosed Reyes with necrotizing fasciitis, or a flesh-eating bacterial infection, a fast-spreading and dangerous infection.

"The doctor took one look at my foot and and the note from the clinic and he said I had to go to the operating room," Reyes said. In the OR, blood tests and X-rays revealed the infection was caused by flesh-eating bacteria, and surgery was the only option to remove the infection.

Necrotizing fasciitis is a serious and potentially life-threatening bacterial skin infection that destroys the body's soft tissues and can spread rapidly throughout the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"They thought it was just on the outside of my foot so they told me they were going to try to save as much as they could, but if it was deeper, they would have to amputate... I was just shaking and crying in shock," Reyes said.

Surgeons eventually had to amputate his foot to prevent the bacteria from spreading to his bloodstream.

Photo courtesy of Joseline Reyes

"I woke up and I was surrounded by doctors telling me how sorry they were and how they tried to do everything they could," Reyes said.

The surgery was performed one day after Reyes turned 26. "It was life's birthday present, I guess," he said. Reyes remained in the ICU on IV antibiotics for over a week until his body finally fought off the infection.

It is unclear how Reyes acquired the infection. Flesh-eating bacteria can be found in brackish water and can enter the body through an open wound or cut.

"They were asking me if I was around any brackish water or if I went in a lake or river and I was nowhere near any of those — I was just living my normal life here at home," Reyes says. The CDC recommends that anyone with an open skin wound avoid swimming in lakes, rivers, oceans, whirlpools, hot tubs, and swimming pools. These infections, which can be caused by several different types of bacteria, are relatively rare, particularly in people with healthy immune systems. People with weakened immune systems due to diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, or other chronic conditions may be at greater risk, according to the CDC.Doctors believe the bacteria may have entered Reyes' body through an ingrown toenail, but Reyes said he has dealt with ingrown toenails many times before without any problem. "I don't know how the bacteria got in there because I was cleaning [the ingrown toenail] and taking care of it properly," Reyes said. When someone develops necrotizing fasciitis, the early symptoms might not seem severe but can progress very quickly. According to the CDC, these symptoms include tenderness, skin that feels sore or warm, red or purplish areas of swelling, ulcers, or blisters. If the infection progresses, a person may experience a fever, chills, or vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms or you are worried about an open wound being infected, seek medical attention right away.
Dr. Fred Hossler / Getty Images / Via gettyimages.com

"They were asking me if I was around any brackish water or if I went in a lake or river and I was nowhere near any of those — I was just living my normal life here at home," Reyes says. The CDC recommends that anyone with an open skin wound avoid swimming in lakes, rivers, oceans, whirlpools, hot tubs, and swimming pools. These infections, which can be caused by several different types of bacteria, are relatively rare, particularly in people with healthy immune systems. People with weakened immune systems due to diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, or other chronic conditions may be at greater risk, according to the CDC.

Doctors believe the bacteria may have entered Reyes' body through an ingrown toenail, but Reyes said he has dealt with ingrown toenails many times before without any problem. "I don't know how the bacteria got in there because I was cleaning [the ingrown toenail] and taking care of it properly," Reyes said.

When someone develops necrotizing fasciitis, the early symptoms might not seem severe but can progress very quickly. According to the CDC, these symptoms include tenderness, skin that feels sore or warm, red or purplish areas of swelling, ulcers, or blisters. If the infection progresses, a person may experience a fever, chills, or vomiting.

If you experience any of these symptoms or you are worried about an open wound being infected, seek medical attention right away.

Reyes is currently healing and waiting until he can be fitted for a prosthesis. "From day one I've just wanted to get back up, to be walking around again," Reyes said.

After the initial surgery to amputate his foot, Reyes says he had a second surgery to make sure his leg could better fit into a prosthesis. "Right now it's just a healing process, and I've been in physical therapy since day one... I never once wanted to be laying down in bed," Reyes says.Although he still has a lot of healing to do before he can get a prosthetic foot, Reyes is looking forward to getting back to work. He credits his incredibly supportive family and friends for helping him during recovery. As for advice, Reyes recommends taking wounds seriously and getting medical help as soon as possible. "Don't let your wounds go untreated, because it could be dangerous. And don't wait like I did," Reyes said. "The doctors told my wife that if I wouldn't have come into the ER when I did, then I probably would've been dead the next day."
Photo courtesy of Joseline Reyes

After the initial surgery to amputate his foot, Reyes says he had a second surgery to make sure his leg could better fit into a prosthesis. "Right now it's just a healing process, and I've been in physical therapy since day one... I never once wanted to be laying down in bed," Reyes says.

Although he still has a lot of healing to do before he can get a prosthetic foot, Reyes is looking forward to getting back to work. He credits his incredibly supportive family and friends for helping him during recovery.

As for advice, Reyes recommends taking wounds seriously and getting medical help as soon as possible. "Don't let your wounds go untreated, because it could be dangerous. And don't wait like I did," Reyes said. "The doctors told my wife that if I wouldn't have come into the ER when I did, then I probably would've been dead the next day."

Photo courtesy of Joseline Reyes

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