Flesh-Eating Bacteria Claims Life

NOVEMBER 2002
- Wife Alerts Others - This past July 15, Association member Albert Holt of Marion went
fishing at nearby Sippican Harbor, a daily routine usually followed by
golf in the afternoon.Seventeen
days later, the 69-year-old former New Bedford teacher was dead, the
victim of a rare flesh-eating bacteria from a contaminated fish.

After a few hours fishing on the Sea Witch, a
24-foot wooden boat he built 24 years ago with a friend, Holt returned
home with a sore finger.

"As
the day progressed the pain in Al's finger began to worsen, but he
shrugged it off," said his wife Linda. But by 9:00 p.m., the pain
became unbearable and the couple headed for Tobey Hospital in Wareham,
where the doctor gave him antibiotics suspecting it was gout.

A
few hours later that night, however, the whole hand had swelled up and
turned black, and the couple went back to the hospital. The doctor this
time said he had never seen anything like it, and Holt was rushed to
the New England Medical Center in Boston.

At
first, doctors thought it was an infection. But when they opened his
hand the doctors found something much more deadly: a bacteria eating
the tissue around his muscle.

Racing
against time to stay ahead of the rapidly spreading bacteria, doctors
performed surgery four times on Holt over the next 24 hours, first
removing his hand, then his arm, then portions of his back and side. At
this point it appeared that the bacteria had been stopped, but days
later the flesh-eating infection invaded his bloodstream and attacked
his vital organs.

"Al was on life
support," said Linda, "and I made the decision to take him off... It
was only a matter of time." He was taken off life support on July 30
and died 38 hours later. "Al was kept anesthetized the entire time he
was in the hospital... He never woke up. The pain would have been
unbearable," she said.

Exactly how
Holt, the father of five, contracted the bacteria is unclear. Most
likely, Holt was infected by a contaminated fish through an open hand
wound, said Dr. Bela Matyas, medical director of epidemiology at the
state Department of Health.

Matyas stressed, however, the bacteria, Vibro damsela,
is extremely rare in humans. A New England Journal of Medicine article
two years ago reported only 17 known cases in the United States.

"I'd
like to use his death as an alert to others who come in contact with
fish to be careful," said Linda Holt. "A little nick from a fin could
result in a bacterial infection, perhaps not as deadly as Al's, but
there are other similar infections that can be fatal if left untreated.

"Al
lived each day like a present. That was his attitude when he got up
each morning and I know that's how he wants to be remembered by his
children, grandchildren and many friends," she said. "And that's how
I'll always remember him."

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