The disease that devours human flesh

Published: 10 January 2018

Craig keeps a mirror by his side at work to treat his phantom pains

Craig and Jeff lucky to escape with their lives

Craig keeps a mirror by his side at work to treat his phantom pains
Image © 2018 The Project

A couple of months ago, 55-year-old Jeff Beck was strong and healthy - but went home early from work feeling very sick.

“I just thought I had the flu,” he laughs. “I knew something wasn’t right because the pain was immense, yeah.”

Doctors discovered he had contracted necrotising fasciitis, a rare infection that eats away at soft tissue, and had entered his body through a small cut in his finger which happened at his workplace. 

He was placed into an induced coma for three weeks while surgeons did the only thing they could – cut away the diseased and surrounding flesh.

Jeff ended up losing half his torso as a result of doctors removing 5kg of dead skin, tissue and muscle. But Jeff was one of the lucky ones – the intervention saved his life.

Necrotising fasciitis affects around 400 Australians each year, and is caused by bacteria entering the body, often through a small cut. And it’s absolutely crucial to catch it as early as possible.

“The single most important factor is early surgical intervention,” says the Alfred Hospital’s Head of Plastics, Dr Frank Bruscino-Raiola. “The earlier we get to them, the less tissue we have to remove and the better the outcome.”

Doctors discovered that 48-year-old Craig Huddleston had the disease after operating on him to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Two weeks later, he woke up after 11 surgeries having lost his left arm and most of the muscles on that side of his torso.

“It’s all gone,” he says. “So on my chest you can see my ribs, you can see my heart beating and basically I’ve got to hold everything up with one half of my body, which is quite a challenge.”

Craig was determined to get on with life, and despite phantom pains and needing to wear a burns suit 23 hours a day, he went back to work as soon as he got out of hospital. But he has needed to make some modifications.

“When I’m at my desk I’ll have a mirror next to me so it appears that I’ve got a left arm,” he says. “So apparently that helps your brain to understand that that part of you is missing. Yeah cos it feels... my nerves think they’re still connected there.”

But he still has a big challenge left before he’ll feel back to full independence – getting back on his motorbike.

“I ride a bike, you know, and I ride my bike with my friends and I can’t ride it now. It’s a big bike, big Indian, so we need to modify it… that should make it rideable, then I’ve got to work on getting my license off its medical suspension, which’ll be another matter.”

If you want to help Craig get back on his bike, visit https://www.gofundme.com/get-craig-back-on-a-bike. And to help Jeff get back on his feet, head to https://www.gofundme.com/help-jeffrey-beck.