IP survives life-threatening disease

  • Published
  • By Frank McIntyre
  • Public Affairs
There's nothing like engaging in a favorite pastime to help ease the transition to a new assignment. But for an instructor pilot now with the 8th Flying Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base, engaging in a favorite pastime nearly cost him his life.
Three weeks after arriving at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Capt. Andy Rose took a break from inprocessing and settling his family to enjoy one his favorites -- roller hockey. Little did he know that Nov. 8, 2003, game would not only threaten his life but also the possible loss of an arm or, at the very least, his future as a pilot.
Getting hit by a hockey puck was nothing new for the KC-135 pilot recently transferred to Kadena from McConnell AFB, Kan., but when his temperature reached 104, Captain Rose knew something was wrong besides an incidental sports injury.
A visit to the flight surgeon two days later did little to reduce his temperature or relieve the pain Captain Rose was starting to feel in his left arm. The following day, he went to the emergency room of the Army hospital on Camp Lester because the Kadena clinic was closed for Veterans' Day. He was admitted to the hospital with his temperature still at 104, his arm swollen from elbow to wrist and a high infection. After receiving antibiotics intravenously and undergoing X-rays, sonograms, CAT scans and MRI, Captain Rose was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis and told surgery would be necessary to halt the spread of the bacterial infection.
According to a Web site, necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating bacteria, is caused when a Group A strep infection enters the body following minor trauma, such as contusion, abrasion, cut or opening in the skin. In severe cases, such as that of Captain Rose, people can go from perfectly healthy to death's door in a matter of days.
"Following surgery to remove the decaying tissue, I was medevaced to Tripler Hospital in Hawaii and placed in the intensive care unit for further treatment," Captain Rose said. "By this time my left arm was suspended on a pole and looked basically like raw meat hanging there. After the surgery had removed skin and tissue from mid-bicep to my wrist, the area had to be left open to ensure the bacteria had been halted."
By this time, with Captain Rose in critical condition, the Air Force flew his parents, retired Maj. Steven and Janice Rose from Kansas to Hawaii, where they joined their daughter-in-law and grandson in keeping vigil over their son.
"We received a call from Andy's squadron commander at 4 a.m. telling us our son was very ill and they weren't sure what was the matter," Janice Rose said. "The Air Force family took over then -- arranging for our transportation to Hawaii, meeting us at the airport and arranging billeting. They even gave us some calling cards so we could keep the rest of the family informed.
"When we arrived at the hospital Friday (Nov. 14, 2003), Andy's arm was marked for amputation and we still didn't know what had placed him in such critical condition. But the care at Tripler was excellent and they were able to save his arm. I hate to think what may have happened if he had been elsewhere that couldn't provide such great care," the captain's mother said.
"Andy didn't even want the first exploratory surgery, but I knew it had to be done," said his wife Sheri. "At Camp Lester, we were told he was being sent to Hawaii where they could do more, but it still didn't look good for him. I packed as much as I could in a few bags and off we went to Hawaii, not knowing when or if we'd ever return to Japan. And our 7-year-old son Nick went through everything with me. He was a big man in a lot of ways."
"Once it was determined the bacteria had been eliminated by 10 surgeries and amputation wasn't necessary, I received skin grafts from my legs to begin the recovery process," Captain Rose said. "I also had two follow-up surgeries to increase the mobility in my hand.
"The first time I was able to leave my bed to move around, I went to another room in the hospital to visit my wife, who had been admitted earlier in the morning for emergency gall bladder surgery herself. Thankfully my parents took our son back to Kansas when they returned home so we didn't have to worry about him while we were both hospitalized."
After nearly a month in Tripler Hospital, the captain was transferred to the patient squadron at Wilford Hall, Lackland AFB, Texas, on Dec. 12, 2003, where he began rehabilitation therapy, a year-long journey.
"Andy hated being told he couldn't do something, so he attacked the therapy with a vengeance until he regained use of his arm and hand," his wife Sheri said. "You could see his eyes swell with tears from the pain as the therapist had to physically bend his knuckles to help regain motion in them."
That perseverance and dedication took Captain Rose from the verge of a medical separation to fully-qualified flying status and his current position as a T-37 instructor with the 8th FTS.
"I said from day one, I don't just want a limb on my shoulder, I want a fully functional arm, and I won't give up until I am 100 percent again," Captain Rose said.
"I warn people that if they have a fever that won't respond to ibuprofen, abnormal swelling and intense pain in some area, it could be more serious than simple flu or swelling. Seek medical attention if in doubt. You can go from perfectly healthy, to death in a few days."
For more information on necrotizing fasciitis, visit the Web site, www.nnff.com.