Man with flesh-eating bacteria loses leg, now helps others

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - It was a year ago this week that Joseph Smith's life changed in a drastic way. He was exposed to a flesh-eating bacteria that cost him his leg.

The bacteria known as, "vibrio" is prevalent in the warm saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico. Doctors believe he contracted the bacteria on a fishing trip and his immunity was lowered due to medication.

"They said, 'I have to amputate your leg or you're going to die,'" said Ocean Springs resident Joseph Smith.

Those words changed Smith's life forever.

"Everything I have to do is a chore," said Smith. "Even when in the morning, I have to strap this thing on."

Now, Smith's right leg is a prosthetic, all the way up to his hip bone. It's something he never imagined for himself at age 45.

"I absolutely wish it didn't happen to me. What can I do?" asked Smith. "I just have to roll with the punches. You know, just suck it up and go on. Once it happened, you really don't have a choice. You just have to adapt and move on."

And moving on is just what he's doing, one step at a time.

With his wife Renee by his side, Joseph Smith is training to walk all the way across the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge and back this weekend, on the anniversary of his amputation. It's the final three and a half miles is a very long journey.

He's been training for months, hoping to raise money for limbs for life. That's an organization that provides prosthetics to those who can't afford them.

"I help them out because I know the way I felt," said Smith. "I never thought I'd be able to walk this bridge. Now that I can, I want to pass it on a little bit."

"Every day is a new challenge, but I get up and I face it because I was that close to not having anything," said Smith. "If I can help somebody just by getting over my little thing, then I want to do that."

The very water he caught the flesh eating bacteria from is same water he'll be walking over. What he calls, quite literally, "getting over it."

Experts say people with normal immune systems can typically fight off an infection of vibrio bacteria. But for those with weakened immune systems, like children or the elderly, exposure could mean serious illness or death.

Joseph Smith will hold his walk this Sunday at 10 a.m and he hopes everyone will come join the cause.

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