What appeared to be an innocent enough ingrown hair became a near-death brush for Mark Nagel, who contracted a flesh-eating virus after he slipped and fell on the ice while walking his dog. As a result, Mark gained 45 pounds in one leg and went temporarily blind within two weeks of contracting necrotizing fasciitis in his left thigh.
Doctors believe that the infection entered his system through an ingrown hair and spread because of an “empty space” created when he slipped and pulled a muscle.
The pain went from dull to intense as the virus ate through his flesh and his vision vanished. He was rushed to a hospital, where he underwent six surgeries to remove the diseased flesh. His left leg was amputated from the pelvic bone down and Mark had to learn to walk with a prosthetic limb.
The rare disease only has a 27 percent survival rate and Mark is thankful to be alive, noting: “I had never heard of the virus before. When I Googled it online, I remember thinking that the mortality rate of sufferers — and the fact that it’s called a flesh-eating disease — was scary.”
He continued: “There was an ingrown hair on my thigh and the speculation was that something got in through that — a strep-based infection got in through that ingrown hair. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal because your immune system fights it but it found an opening in that space where there was a pulled muscle and it gave it space to grow.”
Mark explained how the disease started when his leg began to ache and “started to stiffen up,” making it difficult to walk. He added, “Over a two-week period I had gained 45 pounds in my leg. The infection had basically consumed all of the hydration in my body. I got so dehydrated that I went blind and was on the verge of passing out.”
When doctors discovered that Mark was suffering from necrotizing fasciitis, he explained, “The surgeon said he would open my leg and would see the virus growing while he was working on it.” He added, “They realized it was moving so fast there was no way to save the leg.”
That involved “six surgeries that got rid of the infection,” he noted, adding that doctors “had removed everything right up to my pelvic bone.”
Mark survived but knew that after his hospital stay his family had to make arrangements for their lives to adapt to his new situation, noting, “Our house had five levels of stairs, so we put it up for sale and bought another home that’s single-story. We sold our RV because it wasn’t going to conducive to moving with crutches.”
He added, “We had to make a whole bunch of changes, but everything turned out fine.”
Mark has maintained a positive outlook despite the setbacks, sharing: “You just have to overcome this stuff. You can’t let it get you down. I can deal with only having one leg because it is much better than the alternative — I’m alive.”