The Hancock County fisherman who is fighting to save his legs from a dangerous bacteria is speaking out about his near death experience.
As we told you last week, Al Garcia was shrimping in the gulf between the Long Beach and Gulfport Harbors when he contracted the Vibrio bacteria. He spoke with WLOX from his hospital bed in hopes of preventing anyone else from suffering a similar fate.
Garcia said he was only in the water two to three minutes to untangle his shrimp net when life as he knew it was turned upside down.
"I got everything up, and then I went overboard because I wanted to make sure that rope wasn't in my wheel," said Garcia.
Garcia says the next morning he started running a fever and had cold chills like he never experienced before.
"I couldn't get warm for nothing, and I mean, it was hot that day, and I couldn't even get warm," Garcia said.
He said by mid-afternoon things really turned bad. "After that, I couldn't even walk on my feet. They were hurting and swollen so bad," said Garcia.
Garcia says the pain was so excruciating he was forced to crawl to get around the boat.
"I called my cousin and told him I couldn't walk," Garcia said.
Garcia says he had worked the gulf waters all his life. He went shrimping, oystering and crabbing for more than 45 years and never contracted what doctors confirmed was the aggressive Vibrio bacteria.
"There's about 100 or so different species of Vibrio. Some like freshwater. The one we usually see here is Vibrio vulnificus, which likes saltwater or brackish water," said Dr. Jesse Penico, an Infectious Disease Physician at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport.
Penico treats most of the severe cases on the Coast. He says so far this summer, he's treated five people with Vibrio.
"It just seems like we've had one or two more cases this year than we're used to seeing," Penico said.
Why there have been more cases this year is something Penico would like to see explored. Of those cases, one person died from the bacteria and three others lost limbs.
"I called the state, and they seem to think it's not an increase at the state epidemiology office. We're going to try to enlist the help of the people over at USM or Tulane to see if anybody is interested in helping us with this, taking a look at quantities of the bacteria in the water. There might be some other basic science I don't think has been done, like how many bacteria are needed to set up an infection,” Penico said.
In Garcia's case, Penico says it was his new shrimping boots that rubbed two small blisters on his calves that became infected. He is being treated with strong antibiotics and daily doses of oxygen from inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
“At first when he came in, it was strongly suspected he would need bilateral amputations of his legs, and I begged the other people on the case to let us keep attacking with the antibiotics and hyperbaric before we went to amputations,” Penico said. “So far, we are winning. I think we're in the second half of the game. If I can use that football analogy, we're still playing the game."
Garcia said, "I'm very lucky they caught mine in time because I'd have to lose both my legs, and I don't know if I could have handled that."
The doctors couldn't say when Garcia will be released, but did say his treatments would continue for a while, even after he's gone home.
Garcia told WLOX News, he hoped to return to the water someday, but he will be wearing a wetsuit when he does.