The flat, red patch on Terry Sparks’ upper back looked like a bug bite.
Clothes irritated it, so he went to the doctor hoping for a cream or ointment. Despite prescriptions, nothing helped.
The patch grew worse, inflammation fanning across his back and down his flank. The skin began breaking down and Terry’s dad, Peter, convinced his son he needed to go to the hospital.
He arrived at his local emergency room and was quickly admitted. A battery of tests determined Terry was suffering from necrotizing fasciitis, also known as “flesh-eating disease,” a bacterial infection that destroys the skin and can be fatal if not treated.
Terry was connected to several intravenous antibiotics and needed daily surgery to remove dead tissue.
Doctors tried to get ahead of the spread, but the disease progressed leaving a deep, dangerous wound across his entire upper back and side. Terry’s body went into septic shock, respiratory and kidney failure. He was connected to a ventilator, feeding tube and began dialysis.
After more than a month, Terry’s wounds remained unstable. His family was not ready to give up. Following several conversations with their son’s care team and plenty of prayer, they decided to move Terry to Select Specialty Hospital – Evansville for intensive wound management and healing time.
The day he left the local hospital, one doctor remarked “we do not know if your son will make it to tomorrow.”
He arrived with three separate pressurized dressings, their complexity among the most serious the Evansville team had ever seen. Terry was on multiple intravenous medications for blood pressure, ongoing antibacterial therapy and anxiety.
The first few days were touch and go. Respiratory therapy attempted to liberate him from the ventilator, but hit roadblocks, including increased agitation whenever sedating medications were reduced.
As Terry regained consciousness, he battled delirium, which can occur when individuals are sedated for long periods of time. It took several days of close monitoring by nurses, conversations orienting him to the day, date, time and weather and consistent care routines for him to emerge.
Having overcome those obstacles, Terry began participating more intentionally with respiratory therapists. It took nearly a month, but he liberated from the ventilator and, shortly after, had airway support discontinued.
Simultaneously, physical and occupational therapists deployed a modified mobility program of in-bed range of motion exercises to keep blood flowing.
Meanwhile, wound care nurses continued to deploy an aggressive treatment program, changing Terry’s dressings three times a week and repositioning him frequently to avoid further skin breakdown. It worked. The disease’s grip on Terry’s body loosened and his back began to heal.
Later, Terry would recall that the wound care team’s inspiring positivity gave him the strength to believe he would get better.
Speech therapists led exercises that restored Terry’s swallowing reflexes and, in concert with dietitians, created a meal plan rich in fortifying nutrients.
Physical and occupational therapists focused on restoring larger movements, but had to avoid irritating Terry’s wounds. A “game changing” conversation with pharmacists ensured Terry received pain medication prior to therapy so he could continue to progress.
Quickly, Terry moved from sitting at the bed’s edge to standing. Then, he began taking short walks around his room. He was willing, he said, to do anything to get well, from extra exercises to carefully following the dietary plan.
After a month, Terry had improved beyond expectation. He could walk 120 feet with a therapist standing by. His back and side were healing well.
He departed for an inpatient rehabilitation hospital, where he stayed for a week before returning home.
When Terry arrived at his wound care doctor’s office for his first follow-up appointment, the doctor said he could “turn cartwheels after seeing how much his wound had progressed during his time at Select Specialty Hospital.”
Due to the extensive damage, Terry required several rounds of skin grafts. After the first procedure, his heart stopped and he was once again placed on a ventilator. This time, Terry was able to liberate and return home.
During Terry’s final surgery, his beloved mother died unexpectedly. Her loss knocked a hole in Terry’s heart, but his father and family rallied to help him heal.
Nearly a year since the ordeal began, Terry continues to work toward his “normal.” He’s lost 100 pounds and hopes to soon walk without a cane. He resumed driving and plans to return to work.
In the meantime, he’s spending time with his dad and granddaughters, just enjoying being alive.