Tom Volk's health update
updated July 7, 2006
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My story of necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) in my foot .
As you probably know, I'm recovering from a bad foot infection that I picked up Jan 21, 2005. I'm actually doing much better. For those who are interested in the technical details, I had a necrotizing fasciitis caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, a flesh eating bacterium. There were other complications, but those seem to be resolved. There were apparently rampant rumors on the internet about the state of my health. My heart is fine, my lungs are fine, kidneys are fine, liver is fine. I spent 3 weeks at St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse and another week at the Mayo Clinic. Fortunately, my hospital in La Crosse is affiliated with the Mayo Clinic, 70 miles away in Rochester, MN. I was sent to the Mayo Clinic because my lungs, liver and kidneys had shut down (probably due to a bad combination of drugs), and it looked like the leads of my defibrillator were infected. Fortunately they were not, and I did not have to have open heart surgery as they had predicted. I came home to La Crosse Feb 17 (it's always nice to be home) and did physical therapy and whirlpooling until the middle of May. I've progressed from barely being able to stand, to walking with a walker, to walking with a cane, to walking pretty well without any assistance. My foot is still very ugly (in some cases the wounds were more than 1 cm deep). I went back to school March 21, giving lectures on a limited basis. This was the longest Christmas break ever!
Update April 10, 2005 Since March 28, my wounds have improved dramatically, as we began wrapping my leg with an ace bandage to keep the swelling down. Some of the shallower parts of the wounds have begun to close together. It's very exciting to see this after 11 weeks. I did spend another 3 more days in the hospital (April 3-5), but some new drugs have made things much better with my heart. So, things are improving.
Update May 5, 2005. It's almost 15 weeks after the "big day," and I'm doing pretty well now. I'm walking around pretty well, and my surgery wounds are starting to close in-- some parts are already closed. The doctors now think it is very unlikely that I will need skin grafts. That's great! I'm even wearing two shoes for the first time in 14 weeks! Since my ankle and toes were mostly immobile for so long, physical therapy is now focusing on getting more flexibility in my feet. I'm still having problems going up and down hills for morel hunting. I do a lot of standing on the path and pointing. Oh well. It's great to be outside anyway. Classes are just about over, and I'm looking forward to the summer.
Update June 1, 2005. I'm doing pretty well. My surgical wounds are almost closed! No skin grafts will be necessary and I've been done with whirlpool treatments for about three weeks! I'm walking around pretty well, although I don't do stairs particularly well. During morel season this year I was able to get out (although not as much as usual, which was fine since we had a crummy morel year) and even made it up and down some hills. I am still doing physical therapy to loosen up my stiff ankle and toes. I should be fine by the time the NAMA Foray comes to La Crosse. So things are looking up.
Update July 1, 2005. I'm doing pretty well. In mid June I started on a new heart drug, and coincidentally had to have my defibrillator replaced (low battery). The new defibrillator paces me in a different way, which seems to be working very well. My foot is *almost* healed, with just a few small open spots that are reticent to heal. We're trying some new bandages. So things are looking up after 23 weeks.
Update Update August 9, 2005. I'm actually doing much better. I'm still waiting for the last part of my incision to heal. It's around my ankle bone, so it gets too much abuse from walking or from my shoe. It's slowly getting better. My heart seems to have stabilized, at least for now, and I feel pretty good most of the time.
Update Sept 2, 2005. Last Saturday morning Aug 20 shortly after midnight my defibrillator shocked me about 4 times at home, and I went into St. Francis hospital by ambulance. I was stable but they kept me overnight. 620 am Saturday morning I entered a "V-tach storm" (ventricular tachycardia) and my defibrillator shocked me about 20 times within about 35 minutes, until they administered a large dose of the anti-arrhythmic drug amiodarone, which I had been on before my foot infection. I was transferred to the ICU, and they kept me another day on an IV drip of amiodarone. At 3am Sunday morning the V-tach storm returned, and I was shocked another 10 times or so until they administered a high bolus of amiodarone. After that they decided to send me to the Mayo Clinic-- which is affiliated with my hospital-- about 70 miles away in Rochester MN. At Mayo the doctors and I were to decide whether to treat my problem with medication or with ablation (going through leg arteries into the heart chambers with a catheter and burning out the offending electrical signals). After three days or so I was very stable with no V-tach, and we decided to try to treat this with medication. Bernadette O'Reilly was there with me most of the time, and Josh Burgess (now in a medical mycology PhD program at Mayo) was a frequent visitor. I came home that Thursday afternoon, and all should be fine for a good while. A week later I feel pretty good, although my trip to Newfoundland was cancelled. Oh well. My foot is healing up pretty well, although there's still an open spot on my ankle after more than 7 months.
Update Oct 1, 2005. I'm doing pretty well, although not sleeping particularly well because of my drug regimen. Because I'm always tired, my stamina is not so good. That may be changing as I change dosages of my medicines. I'll let you know. My foot is still healing, but it's getting oh-so-close.
Update Nov 1, 2005. I'm doing much better, thank you. I was well enough to attend the International Medicinal Mushrooms Conference in Washington in mid-October. I'm having very few arrhythmias. I've adjusted pretty well to my drugs, and I'm sleeping much better. That certainly helps me feel better during the day. My foot is still healing (after 9 months!), mostly because the area along my ankle gets flexed and bumped too much. I'm tired of waiting.
Update Dec. 1, 2005. We tried some new bandages, and my foot is healing much faster. On the inside of my ankle there is only a 1X1/2 inch open spot and it's pretty close to closing. After only 10 months! I'm feeling pretty good, and they're doing lots of tests to see if my heart problems can be fixed.
Update Jan. 3, 2006. The inside of my ankle is now healed! I'm still waiting for a very small patch on the top of my foot to heal. I'm actually doing pretty well, although I hate to put that in writing, for fear of jinxing myself. I spent Christmas with my sister and her beau in Columbus, Ohio. It was keen.
Update Feb 1, 2006. The inside of my ankle is doing well, but there is a small opening still on the outside of my ankle. I'm wearing slippers every day to avoid rubbing the wound on my shoes. I am being very patient, although the one-year anniversary of my surgery was just a couple weeks ago.
Thanks for all of your very nice and supportive emails and cards! I'm sorry I don't have time to answer individual emails, but many thanks for all of your support. I'll probably see many of you this year in my travels.