MIDWAY — His left arm was badly swollen. It was turning black. The pain was searing as the doctor walked up to his hospital bed.
“(He) told me that what I had — it’s a rare disease and that it kills people and basically that it will kill me, too,” Brad Meadows recalled of that unsettling day in December.
Unless the doctor operated.
Meadows, a school bus driver in the Wasatch County School District, was confronted with the reality he might lose his arm or that he might die as he went under the knife.
He had contracted necrotizing fasciitis. It had developed from a topical strep infection after he scraped his finger.
“I couldn’t stand the pain. I got severe, terrible pain in my left arm,” Meadows said. “My arm got swollen, large, turned black and terrible — horrendous.”
Meadows survived, but months later life is much different. There are many things he can’t lift with his hand. He has to favor his right hand starting his lawn mower. He has a difficult time gripping a golf club and swinging it — something that was one of his favorite pastimes.
His story is coming to light at the same time the national spotlight is shining on a Georgia graduate student who lost her hands and feet to the flesh-eating disease. Cases are extremely rare, though just how infrequent remains uncertain. Utah Department of Health researchers do not track the prevalence, and neither does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meadows spent weeks in the ICU, more time in the hospital and months in a recovery program. He has undergone six surgeries, and the skin grafts taken from his leg to cover the sections of his arm that were removed have no feeling in them.
“It’s numb from here all the way up to here,” said Meadows as he pointed from the back of his elbow to the area where his arm meets his chest.
There is some dispute about how Meadows contracted the disease. He said he scraped his finger in a school bus and that’s what led to his illness. Wasatch County School District human resources director Vicci Gappmayer said it’s impossible to tell where Meadows caught the disease and said the buses are cleaned daily.
Meadows said he’s thankful he’s alive and he’s ready to move forward with life. He shared his story in hopes of raising awareness in others. He said cleaning even the smallest cuts and scratches is imperative, he said.
“If you have a scrape or if you have a cut or if you have anything — an abrasion of any kind — anywhere, you can get it,” Meadows said.