A Personal Story

We may think of a serious infection as something akin, say, to a broken arm: it’s painful, you apply a fix, and after a while you’re good to go. But that’s not how infectious disease works, especially those that are resistant to antibiotic treatment. Resistant infections can mean multiple surgeries, a bad reaction to an antibiotic, repeated flare-ups, and having to deal with the prospect of death. Emotional trauma will sometimes set in and linger for years. The effect will be felt by the whole family.

Linaman2To understand why it works this way we offer the story of Chris Linaman. He injured his ACL playing basketball. He needed surgery to repair the ligament and it proved successful. But several weeks into his recovery he contracted MRSA. Here’s Chris explaining what happened:

Can you tell us about your MRSA infection, and how it affected you and your family?

Chris: My nightmare started as a basketball injury. I’d had a successful ACL surgery, and several weeks into my recovery was doing great and thought my incision was fully healed. But that all changed very quickly. After a weekend trip to visit friends, I went to sleep on a Sunday night feeling fine, and woke up Monday morning to find my knee had swollen to the size of a melon. It was bright red and hot to the touch. Within hours, my MRSA infection had been diagnosed, and I was in emergency surgery—the first of several surgeries I would need over the course of four days.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of my struggle to survive MRSA.

Just a few days after being sent home from the hospital, my wife found me nearly unconscious, with a swollen face and a temperature of 105 degrees. She rushed me back to the hospital, and the doctors told her to begin making plans because they didn’t expect me to make it. Luckily, the spinal tap showed the infection had not yet gotten to my brain. But I needed to have even more surgeries to get rid of it, and I also lost my epidermis—the outer layer of my skin—over my entire body, due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they were using to treat me.

Ultimately, the doctors were able to get the infection under control within a few weeks, but the road to recovery was long and painful. Even after my infection was cleared, and I was out of the hospital, my body was still reeling from all it had been through. My leg muscles were wrecked from all of the surgeries, and it took extensive physical therapy to get me back to anything resembling normal. To help put it in perspective, my original ACL surgery had been in early May, and it wasn’t until mid-July that I was even able to walk around the block in my neighborhood, a feat that took more than an hour.

Beyond the physical trauma, the whole ordeal also nearly ruined our family financially, and it was emotionally devastating as well. At the time, our two kids were just 2 and 4 years old, and they didn’t understand what was going on. It still breaks my heart to think about it. Those were the darkest days of my life, and, honestly, it’s hard to believe that I’m still here.

Why do you think it’s so important for superbug survivors to share their stories?

Chris: I don’t think enough people realize the extent of what’s at stake. People have maybe heard the term “post-antibiotic” era but don’t really understand what that could mean to them and their families. While it’s still very difficult for me to talk about—even today, more than 10 years later—sharing my experience can help show what that future could look like if we don’t keep up the fight and do what we can today. As horrible as my MRSA infection was, I’m the “good” outcome—I survived. Way too many others have not.

***

The CDC tells us that: (1) In the US alone more than two million people are sickened every year with antibiotic-resistant infections, with at least 23,000 dying as a result (2) Almost half of these deaths are due to MRSA alone, and (3) These numbers are based on conservative assumptions and are likely minimum estimates.

Chris Linaman told his story this week to The Pew Charitable Trusts. His full interview can be found here.

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