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South Georgia Man Recovering After Amputation Caused By Flesh-Eating Disease


A Moultrie, Georgia man who lost part of his arm to a rare-flesh eating disease says he’s in better spirits. The incident is the latest of at least four others  in the last year in South Georgia.

Michael Hobgood,23, had just relocated to Moultrie Georgia from North Florida two months ago. His parents were raised in Moultrie and moved back to be near Michael’s grandparents. But during a hunting trip in a nearby South Georgia town, Michael had what he thought at the time, was a minor accident:

“My friends and I go out and shoot in Hartsfield, outside Moultrie. I’d shot a gun and got a cut on my hand. Went to a friend’s house and bandaged it up with a first aid kit. Didn’t think anything of it and I went home and went to sleep," he said.

But overnight the hand swelled and he was taken to a hospital where doctors thought he had torn ligaments. A day later, the pain intensified, the medications he was given didn’t work. Michael was rushed back to the hospital again:

“They put me through one surgery and lanced it and I was sitting in a room. When I looked down I had a red line that went from the palm of my hand to my shoulder. We hit the call button and the doctor came in. He told me I probably wouldn’t make it through the night, and if I wanted to save my arm he had to amputate immediately.” 

Michael had contracted Necrotizing Fasciitis. It’s a rare disease caused by a variety of bacteria, some that are similar to what causes strep throat. Tracking the disease is hard, and only a few states, including Georgia, have records.

“If we put all the information together from all 10 sites, they are able to extrapolate that there are about 650-800 cases per year," said Georgia Department of Health's Dr. Cheri Drenzek. She says the disease is hard to track because it has many different causes.

Michael’s arm was partly amputated to the elbow in June. He spent ten days in the hospital and is now back home. But his recovery is still a work in progress. There are weekly trips to the doctor and to a counselor to treat his Post-Traumatic  Stress caused by the amputation. He has sensations of a phantom arm where none exists.  The little things, like buttoning up shirts and tying his shoes, are a challenge. But he’s adjusting. Michael says the community has been good to him:

“I walk out everywhere with people hugging me and telling me I’m an inspiration to them, and they’re keeping me in their prayers. It makes me feel good, because I may be down and to walk by and have someone tell you something like that, it will pick me up for the rest of the day.” 

But there are still looming hurdles, and a big one for the Hobgood’s is financing Michael’s recovery. The family used to own a sheet metal business until 2006 when the housing market crashed. And they don’t have insurance. A prostheticist in Albany has volunteered to help, but the family has to pay for supplies. That’s expected to cost about $2500 dollars. A benefit account is still open at Southwest Georgia bank for donations.

Last year a Georgia woman lost both her hands and feet to Necrotizing Fasciitis. Both she and Hobgood contracted the disease after tainted water entered an open wound.

The disease used to be associated with hospitals, however in the most recent cases, those who contracted it came into contact with water. Dr. Dreznick, with the Georgia Department of Health, says they could have been exposed to another bacteria called Aeromonas hydrophila. The bacteria is found in freshwater systems, like those Hobgood and others were in at the time they contracted the Fasciiitis.

A Lake County, Florida woman has also died after contracting the same disease.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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