‘I was put in an induced coma when a flesh-eating bug attacked my body’

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When Steve Overton felt a “sharp prick” on his leg while walking his two dogs in a field last November, he thought very little of it.

But within hours he was in excruciating pain, unable to walk and needed to be rushed to A&E where he was later put in an induced coma.

It transpired that the 67-year-old’s body had been attacked by a very rare, “flesh-eating” bug that kills tissue, muscles and organs underneath the skin.

Even with treatment, it’s estimated that one or two in every five cases are fatal.

“I can’t believe how quickly I went from feeling very unwell to nearly dying,” recalled Steve, from Rhoose, near Barry .

“I firmly believe that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the hard work, dedication and expertise of the team who looked after me.”



Steve Overton, 67, from Rhoose, was struck down with a ‘flesh-eating disease’ called necrotising fasciitis

Steve, a lover of sea swimming, cycling and dog walking, said he never thought one of his favourite hobbies would end up nearly killing him.

“Two days before I was taken ill I had cycled to the sea and gone for a swim. I felt on top of the world,” he recalled. 

“My partner Lisa was due to have a baby in the coming weeks so we were focusing on our new arrival.

“On that morning, I got up and walked my two collie dogs as I did every day. It was a cloudy day and I walked the dogs through a long-grassed field down to the sea. 

“I was wearing long shorts on the walk and I remember feeling a sharp prick on the lower part of my leg while walking through the grass. 

“For a split second I thought I had been bitten by a spider, but I was always getting scratched while out and about by trees or brambles so I ignored it.”

As he was walking back home, Steve said his knee started hurting as if he had twisted it.

“I put it down to me having walked too much,” he said.

“By the time I got home the pain was getting worse. I rested a while but the pain wasn’t getting any easier. In fact I started to feel very unwell.

“I could literally feel the strength draining from me to the point where I couldn’t hold the yogurt pot that I was eating.”

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW

Three hours after the initial knee complaint, Steve said the pain was so bad he couldn’t withstand it anymore.

“I was rocking back and forth hoping for some relief. I had never felt pain like it,” he said.

“By the time my daughter Jade and I got to the A&E department at Princess of Wales Hospital I couldn’t walk. 

“Jade got me a wheelchair to push me from the car into the hospital.”



Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, which is now part of Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board

On admission to Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend , Steve was seen by a nurse who instantly put him on painkillers and antibiotics. He admitted he didn’t remember much after that.

While in A&E Steve was assessed by trauma and orthopaedic consultant, Mr Rahul Kotwal. 

Mr Kotwal recalled Steve came to A&E with a red hot swollen knee and showed signs of cellulitis with slight bruising further up his thigh.

The experienced doctor decided to keep him “nil by mouth” and monitor him every hour as he was extremely concerned about his symptoms.

Twenty-four hours after being admitted to hospital, Mr Kotwal said Steve showed signs of improvement and felt much better in himself. His temperature had gone down and the knee “wasn’t as angry”. However, he had developed blisters on the thigh overnight.



The flesh-eating disease caused terrible blistering to his leg and foot




Mr Kotwal added: “Even though Steve felt much better the blisters concerned me. I asked my colleague Mr Deglurkar to take a look at Steve for a second opinion.

“We agreed that we needed to keep a close eye on Steve and monitor him regularly. A few hours later, even though Steve said he was feeling better, the cellulitis had spread and he was starting to get confused.

“We carried out further tests and I sought a third opinion from my colleague Mr Sherring. It was then decided to take Steve to theatre. This isn’t something you do unless absolutely necessary, but it’s the only way of identifying the infection that we thought could potentially be necrotising fasciitis.

“Our fears were confirmed, Steve had necrotising fasciitis – or more commonly known as ‘the flesh eating bug’ – and he was placed in an induced coma as he would have to go to theatre every day for the next few days to be operated on.

“After each theatre visit, Steve was transferred back to ITU to rest and recover. Steve had this procedure for four days, nearly losing him on the third day as he went into cardiac arrest.”



Necrotising fasciitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects the tissue beneath the skin and surrounding muscles and organs (fascia).

It’s sometimes called the “flesh-eating disease”, although the bacteria that cause it do not “eat” flesh but release toxins that damage nearby tissue.

Necrotising fasciitis can start from a relatively minor injury, such as a small cut, but gets worse very quickly and can be life threatening if it’s not recognised and treated early on.

The symptoms of necrotising fasciitis develop quickly over hours or days.

They may not be obvious at first and can be similar to less serious conditions, such as  flu, gastroenteritis or cellulitis.

Early symptoms can include:

  • a small but painful cut or scratch on the skin;
  • intense pain that’s out of proportion to any damage to the skin;
  • a high temperature (fever) and other flu-like symptoms.

After a few hours to days, you may develop:

  • swelling and redness in the painful area – the swelling will usually feel firm to the touch;
  • diarrhoea and vomiting;
  • dark blotches on the skin that turn into fluid-filled blisters.

If left untreated, the infection can spread quickly through the body and cause symptoms such as dizziness, weakness and confusion.

The main treatments are:

  • surgery to remove infected tissue – this may be repeated several times to ensure all the infected tissue is removed (amputation of affected limbs may be necessary sometimes);
  • antibiotics – usually several different types are given directly into a vein;
  • supportive treatment – including treatment to control your blood pressure, fluid levels and organ functions.

After having just one day rest in between his procedures, Steve needed to go back to theatre on the sixth day of his coma. This is when, thankfully, he finally turned a corner.

Mr Kotwal continued: “This is only the second case I have seen in my career and the procedure to identify this infection is very invasive so I was very grateful to my colleagues for their support during this time. 

“We had theatres on standby in case we needed to take Steve back there quickly and we monitored him on the hour. He is a very lucky man.”



Steve with trauma and orthopaedic consultant Mr Rahul Kotwal

Necrotising fasciitis is a rare, but serious bacterial infection that affects the tissue beneath the skin and surrounding muscles and organs.

It can start from a relatively minor injury, such as a small cut or bite, but get worse very quickly and can be life-threatening if it’s not recognised and treated early on.

After turning a corner on the sixth day, Steve woke from his coma. 

Mr Kotwal explained to him that he had almost lost his leg – and then his life.

Steve, who remains “puzzled” as to whether he picked up the condition while swimming or walking his dogs, added: “I remember having the most horrific nightmares while in a coma. I can’t remember the detail just that they were very frightening. My partner told me what had happened to me. I still can’t believe it.

“I can’t praise Mr Kotwal and his team enough for the care and dedication they showed me.”



Steve with his baby daughter Rosie

When Steve awoke he was introduced to my new daughter, Rosie, who had been born while he had been fighting for his life.

“I was elated and overjoyed to meet her. My partner Lisa and daughter Jade have been a tower of strength to me,” added Steve, whose weight dropped from 12st to 9st while he was ill.

“I am looking forward to the summer where I can go cycling and swimming in the sea again, although I may invest in a wet suit this time.”



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