Texas judge Derry Dunn is battling a flesh-eating bacteria infection which he likely contracted on a family vacation, CBS affiliate KFDM reports.
Doctors at Baptist Hospital in Orange, Texas, feared they might have to amputate his leg, but after surgery and antibiotic treatment, his condition seems to be improving.
The flesh eating bacteria, whose proper name is necrotizing fasciitis, kills tissue and can spread through the body, sometimes leading to the loss of limbs or even death.
"It can be scary because it can rapidly progress," said Dr. Maria Palafox, a general surgeon at the hospital where the judge is being treated. "It's not so much the redness, although you certainly don't want patients to have a lot of loss of tissue because you have to cut this tissue away to get control of the infection, but it's also the fact that they get very ill, they get systemically ill, they get sepsis."
Dunn was in good spirits when he was interviewed by KFDM Tuesday, telling jokes and saying that he was hopeful about beating the infection.
The nightmare started when Dunn attended a family reunion at a beach on the Gulf of Mexico at the end of July.
"Our family's been going to Crystal Beach every summer since I was a little kid," Dunn said.
He only went in the water once, for 10 minutes, to bring his 8-year-old grandson to the shore. "Well I was looking out there and one of my grandsons, it looked like he was, the current was real strong," Dunn said.
The bacteria can enter the bloodstream through a small cut. About a week later, the judge developed a fever and chills, and within hours, his leg turned bright red.
"Woke up Saturday morning and my leg from my ankle to the knee was just bright red," he said. He was then admitted to the hospital.
"They got into high gear, they took it and ran with it and as it turns out, we were in a time, a battle against time," his wife, Jane Dunn, told KFDM.
There was a possibility that doctors might have had to amputate his leg Sunday, Dunn said. But after what he calls a "Christmas tree of antibiotics" and surgery on his leg, "I'm a lot more hopeful today than I have been," he said.
"He's got a ways to go but we're going the right way," his wife added.
Sadly, however, other people who get this virulent infection don't always survive it. Maine teen Benjamin LaMontagne died in February after contracting a rare strain of flesh-eating bacteria during oral surgery.
"In cases where patients wait or perhaps it's not recognized, it can progress rapidly in the other direction," Palafox said.
Tuesday, Dunn and his family credited his outlook to the hospital staff as well as prayers and support.
"Looks like we're on the road home," Dunn said.