Hispanic Heroes Honored in Fight Against "Flesh-Eating" Disease

The National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation recognizes the courage and contributions of Hispanics in fighting and helping to tame this deadly disease

Sep 15, 2014, 13:18 ET from National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif., Sept. 15, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- During National Hispanic Heritage Month, the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation (NNFF) is honoring the courage of two Hispanic patients in fighting life-threatening "flesh-eating" disease—and the contributions of the Hispanic doctor who has worked all his life to improving medical care for the disease, and who is now saving lives and limbs with a pioneering new approach.

"These heroes deserve our thanks for their courage and for their efforts to reduce the suffering from this terrible disease," says Jacqueline Roemmele, executive director of the NNFF and author of Surviving the Flesh-Eating Bacteria (and herself a survivor of the disease).

One of those being honored is Dr. Anibal Gauto, Medical Director of the Wound Care Center at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Dr. Gauto saw his first case of necrotizing fasciitis (or flesh-eating disease) back in the 1970s, soon after getting his medical degree from Universidad Nacional de Rosario Faculty of Medicine in Argentina and immigrating to the U.S. Since then, he's treated more than 160 victims. It's been terribly frustrating, he says. "When doctors don't quickly recognize the disease, the consequences are devastating and terrible—multiple amputations or dying. The suffering is absolutely atrocious."

Too often, experts like Dr. Gauto are called in only after the disease has spread from a seemingly innocuous cut or scrape, threatening limbs and lives. Even with aggressive treatment with antibiotics and surgery to cut away dead tissue, about 20 percent of patients die, and many more lose arms, legs or other body parts. What makes the disease especially deadly is that toxins in the wound continue to kill tissue long after the bacteria that caused the initial infection have been eradicated. That's why so many patients lose limbs.

So when Dr. Gauto heard about a new treatment approach developed by Dr. John Crew, a colleague who directs the San Francisco Center for Advanced Wound Care at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, California, he was eager to try it. The idea: irrigate the wound with a cleanser named NeutroPhase, made by Emeryville, California biopharmaceutical company, NovaBay® Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NYSE MKT: NBY). Laboratory studies have shown that in addition to killing bacteria, NeutroPhase neutralizes the toxins known to be present in tissue and appears to stop the spread of the dying tissue. When Dr. Gauto learned of the new method, "I said if this works, it is extraordinary and I would love to be a part of it," he recalled.

Earlier this year, Dr. Gauto had a chance to try the new approach, because of the ordeal suffered by the second of NNFF's Hispanic heroes, Fernando Davila. A casino security dispatcher in Coachella, Calif., Davila first noticed some small scabs on his leg and foot, but figured they were caused by the kidney dialysis treatment he'd been having for several years.

But the small wounds got infected with bacteria, and the infection spread. Davila got sicker and sicker, until one day he fell twice on the way to the bathroom. Rushed to the hospital, Davila was pumped full of antibiotics. Doctors cut away big hunks of tissue from both legs and the top of his left foot. After ten days, the flesh-eating infection seemed under control, so doctors sent him home.

But Davila got worse. The disease continued to eat away tissue. He went back to the hospital. "I was afraid," he recalls.

That's when Dr. Anibal Gauto got involved. Was Davila willing to try the new treatment, Dr. Gauto asked?

Davida had the courage to say yes. By then, most of the back of his right leg already was dead, creating a giant gaping wound. Two-thirds of the front surface of his left leg was dead. A giant hole was spreading in the top of Davila's left foot. The situation was grim, but thanks to Dr. Gauto's expertise, "I knew there was hope," Davila recalled.

His hope was justified. The foot was already too far gone to be saved, but over the course of six days of treatment, NeutroPhase stopped the spread of dead tissue in Davila's legs, allowing those wounds to heal and the legs to be saved. "Within a week or two I was discharged from the hospital," said Davila. "I'm now able to stand up—and I've very excited to get back into life and do the things I was not able to do."

"Without the treatment, Mr. Davila would have had his leg, or maybe both legs amputated, or even lost his life," said Dr. Gauto. "This is a significant advance in treatment."

After seeing the results from the use of NeutroPhase, Dr. Gauto is now eager to work with the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation and other doctors and hospitals on a national awareness campaign to spread the word about the dangers of the disease and the benefits of the new NeutroPhase-based treatment. "I think this has the potential to be really, really big," said Dr. Gauto.

But there's much more work to be done to publicize the efforts and successful results of doctors like Dr. Gauto, who are finally bringing new hope to patients like Fernando Davila. And the meantime, sadly, scores of other patients continue to get the disease and suffer from its consequences, such as the loss of limbs.

The NNFF tells the stories of many of these courageous patients on its website. But the Foundation would like to single out one especially inspiring recent patient, NNFF's third Hispanic hero, Eddie Garcia.

Garcia had already overcome many obstacles in his life to become a successful teacher and coach in the Las Vegas area when he started to feel ill in January of 2013. As described in a story in the Las Vegas Sun, Garcia thought he had strep throat. He didn't. Within a day he was unconscious in the hospital with the flesh-eating disease. His doctors thought his chances of survival were only 20 percent.

The physicians eventually fought off the infection, but at a huge cost. Garcia lost both of his legs, and both of his hands. But within months, he was back coaching his son's and daughter's sports teams. And late last year, he received the Youth Coach of the Year Award from the National Alliance of Youth Sports.

"Garcia's story is a profile in courage," said Jacqueline Roemmele. "He is rebuilding his life after a terrible ordeal. But as NNFF's two other Hispanic heroes have demonstrated, it may be possible in the future to improve the outcomes from this terrible disease, making the consequences less devastating."

ABOUT THE NATIONAL NECROTIZING FASCIITIS FOUNDATION
The National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation (NNFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established in 1997 by two survivors of the disease. Since that time, NNFF has evolved to become the world's leading resource for information regarding necrotizing fasciitis, as well as repository of cases reported worldwide.  Its mission is to educate for public awareness regarding recognition of symptoms and preventative measures; to advocate research; to offer resources; and to offer support for those affected by necrotizing fasciitis, so that it may help save lives.  The two founders of the organization, Jacqueline A. Roemmele and Donna Batdorff, have a second edition of their top-selling non-fiction book "Surviving the Flesh-eating Bacteria" being released this summer.  

CONTACT:
Jacqueline Roemmele
Executive Director
National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation
jroemmele@aol.com
908-422-7744

Video - http://origin-qps.onstreammedia.com/origin/multivu_archive/PRNA/ENR/Fernando_Davila_Necrotizing_Fasciitis.mp4

SOURCE National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation