Virginia swimmer fights bacteria eating away at his leg

WASHINGTON — Doctors say a Stafford, Virginia man will be able to keep his leg after contracting dangerous bacteria while swimming in the Potomac River.

For the Fourth of July holiday, Joe Wood and his wife Jeana visited family near Callao, Virginia and swam in a Potomac River inlet.

“We were jumping off the dock, throwing sticks for the dogs to catch, just normal horseplay,” Wood says from his hospital room in Fredericksburg.

“At one point, I scratched my knee climbing on a wooden pylon and I kinda bumped my knee on it.”

It left a scrape, but nothing he gave anymore though to, Wood says.

A day later, the cut was swollen and he felt sick. Wood went to the hospital and was quickly transferred to an infectious disease specialist at Mary Washington Hospital who diagnosed him with a specific type of vibrio bacteria, eating away at his flesh.

“It has acted [like flesh eating bacteria,] eating the skin and the layer below the skin of a good chunk of my leg,” Wood says.

Doctors tell Wood he’ll survive. Wood knows the quick diagnosis is part of the reason why.

“It moves so fast. By the time folks do diagnose it, they run the cultures and normal testing, they get behind the curve on it,” he says.

Wood is having surgery to graft skin from his right to his damaged left leg. If the surgery goes well, he expects to be back at work as a security specialist providing technical support at the State Department.

“If you’re going swimming make sure you don’t have any cuts or open sores on your body. That’s a quick way for bacteria to enter your body,” says Curtis Dalpra with the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

There is no present danger in designated swimming areas of the Potomac River, which are regularly tested.

“Health organizations advise waiting two to three days after a major rainstorm before getting into the river,” Dalpra says.

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