'I had a 20 percent chance of living'

Barry Ginn, Hilton Head resident, contracted necrotizing fasciitis in February and was treated at the Medical University Hospital. 'I have an arm. I have a life,' he said after nine surgeries.

Barry Ginn recently underwent nine surgeries at Medical University Hospital to remove about five or six pounds of his upper arm and shoulder.

The Hilton Head Island man was being attacked by a rare flesh-eating bacteria.

“I had a 20 percent chance of living. I was dying,” he said. “I don't have 100 percent use in my arm, but I have one.”

Ginn, 59, was treated by the Medical University of South Carolina in February for necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection that attacks soft tissue and muscle.

His is among several recent cases of necrotizing fasciitis in the South.

Aimee Copeland of Carrollton, Ga.; Lana Kuykendall in Greenville; and Bobby Vaughn of Cartersville, Ga., had also been infected, according to media reports.

Such cases are rare — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only has 550 to 1,000 each year, according to Jim Beasley of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control — but their consequences can be dramatic.

“It can cause people to lose their arm, their leg, even their life,” said Dr. Matthew Wallen of Trident Medical Center.

Ginn knows that, and he said Thursday he felt lucky to be alive.

“I was very blessed in my surviving,” he said.

The infection was not waterborne but likely stemmed from an earlier staph infection, said Vera Ford, director of development for the hospital's surgery department. Ginn said he wasn't sure where the bacteria came from.

“We almost lost him several times,” Ford said.

Other Lowcountry hospitals said they hadn't seen other cases recently, representatives said.

Bob Behanian of the Trident Health System said the system's Trident and Moncks Corner hospitals hadn't seen any cases in at least a year.

Wanda Brockmeyer, the director of emergency services for Roper St. Francis Healthcare, said in an email that her hospital's Hyperbaric and Underwater Medicine program usually has “up to three patients” with the infection each year but hasn't seen any so far this year.

It is not clear whether infections are present elsewhere in the state; DHEC does not maintain statewide records of such infections because they are rare and don't spread between people, Beasley said.

“(Necrotizing fasciitis) is not a ‘reportable condition' in South Carolina primarily because it is not a health condition that can be prevented through public health interventions,” he said in an email response.

While the infection is rare, Beasley said it was a reminder to wash all wounds thoroughly with soap and water.

Ginn also said his experience was a reminder to be thankful for what he has, and he offered his own request.

“I have an arm. I have a life,” Ginn said. “Everybody, everybody needs to pray real hard for anybody who gets this stuff.”

Reach Thad Moore at 958-7360 or on Twitter @thadmoore.