Judge fights flesh-eating bacteria
Orange County Justice of the Peace Derry Dunn is back at home after a trip to Crystal Beach resulted in two surgeries and a nearly two-week stay in the hospital.
According to Brooke Hatton, Judge Dunn’s court clerk, the frightening ordeal began with a family vacation on July 25 to Crystal Beach, a trip Dunn has taken since he was a young boy. Although Hatton was unclear on what day Judge Dunn was exposed to the water, she said he went into the ocean to help his grandson.
“He was in the water for maybe 10 minutes,” said Hatton. “His grandson had gone out a little too far, and he went in to get him.”
On the way back home on Friday, Aug. 1, Judge Dunn complained to his wife about not feeling well, and thought he might be coming down with the flu. By Aug. 2, he was admitted into Orange Baptist Hospital after experiencing high fever, chills and body shakes. After diagnosing his bright-red, swollen leg, doctors immediately rushed into surgery to remove the infected tissue. Amputation was discussed as a possible outcome. Thankfully for Dunn, the necrotizing fasciitis — which kills tissue and can spread through the body, sometimes leading to the loss of limbs or even death — was caught early, and the judge’s right leg was spared.
Hatton said Dr. Maria Palafox, who treated Dunn at Orange Baptist, and other medical personnel were fighting against the clock, and not only was he in danger of losing his leg, but he was also in danger of losing his life.
Because the bacterial toxins can destroy soft tissue and reduce blood flow, the antibiotics required to treat the illness might not reach all of the infected areas, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website states. Rapid surgical removal of dead tissue – in addition to antibiotic treatments – is critical to stopping the infection.
After doctors eliminated the decaying flesh between the judge’s knee and ankle on the outside of his right leg, another infected area was discovered on the same leg that also needed to be cut out days after the previous surgery, Hatton said. The operations left a gaping hole totaling 6 inches long and 2 inches wide between his calf and shin.
According to the CDC, the most common way of getting necrotizing fasciitis is when Vibro vulnificus bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin, like a cut, scrape, burn, insect bite or puncture wound.
Hatton said the Dunn family believes a mosquito bite could be the culprit.
The Vibrio vulnificus bacteria thrives in warm saltwater, and summer months are ideal for breeding grounds in the Gulf and southern waters, the CDC website states. If ingested, it can cause stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. But it can also infect open wounds and lead to “skin breakdown and ulceration.” Although the flesh-easting disease is rare, the bacteria that cause it aren’t. Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi have several recorded cases of Vibrio vulnificus, and a 2013 outbreak linked to contaminated shellfish sickened at least 104 people in 13 states, according to the CDC.
“He is doing amazingly well!” Hatton told The Examiner on Wednesday, Aug. 13. “They will have home health come out to doctor him.”
Hatton said it is unclear at this time when Judge Dunn will return to court.