HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Dick Empson is standing tall again - all 6 feet, 4 inches of him - and he's returned to the Coast to thank Hancock Medical Center staff that got him back on two legs.
"I told them that I was not coming back by to visit until I could walk in," Empson said.
He and his family have been vacationing in Pass Christian for 25 years. But his 2016 vacation was one that won't soon be forgotten.
He fished in the surf for four days. The night before leaving, chills and pain woke him. Empson didn't know it then, but he had been infected with vibrio.
"I called doctor in Baton Rouge, set up an appointment, and as we were driving home, I told them, I said, 'I can't make it,'" said Empson.
He went to Hancock Medical Center, and didn't leave for more than 20 days.
"I made the decision to come here, which was the decision that saved my life," Empson said. "I'd have never made it back to Baton Rouge."
His leg had to be amputated above the knee. In October, he received a prosthetic leg and finished his tough rehabilitation in Baton Rouge in December.
"Dad's attitude has been really good since everything ended up happening," said his son, Ryan Empson. "He's taken his physical therapy in stride. If they tell him to walk 100 steps, he'll try to walk 110, 120."
Debra Burch was one of Empson's ICU nurses.
"It was a challenge," Burch said. "He was very, very critical."
His return to the medical center meant as much to the staff as it meant for Empson.
"I think it's wonderful. He's our walking miracle," Burch said. "And it does my heart good to see a patient like this come back in because we don't usually see this part."
Empson's wife Marcia says it was a combination of character and compassion that helped everyone through the ordeal.
"Everybody here was just so wonderful," Marcia said. "And I know my husband said it many times in different circumstances; but it didn't matter if it was the CEO, or it was the person that would come in and clean the floors in his room."
Empson says he won't give up his vacations to the Coast, nor his passion for fishing. But from now on, it will be from a boat, not in the water.