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Patient Stories: Josh Nahum

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A 27-year-old skydiving instructor in Colorado who died from an antibiotic-resistant Enterobacter aerogenes infection.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the scariest prospects patients and their families now face. We should know: We lost our 27-year-old son Josh to a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection in October 2006.

Josh was a healthy, active skydiving instructor, attending college with passionate dreams of becoming a child psychologist. He was financing his own education by teaching other enthusiasts at a local skydiving school in Colorado.

During Labor Day weekend in 2006, Josh was enjoying the holiday doing what he loved best: jumping out of airplanes, something he had done more than 5,000 times before. But during a jump that weekend, he landed wrong, hitting the ground at around 55 miles an hour. The impact jackknifed his body, breaking his left femur and fracturing his skull. Amazingly, he survived these terrible injuries.

During his almost six-week stay in the ICU that followed, Josh developed a hospital-associated infection, methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus (MRSA), which the doctors were able to treat with antibiotics. Eventually, he was doing well enough to be transferred to a nearby rehabilitation facility to continue his progress.

Just as Josh was recuperating and on a hopeful path to a good recovery, he began to run a fever of 103 degrees. An infection caused by Enterobacter aerogenes, a gram-negative bacteria, was discovered in his cerebral spinal fluid. From there, despite doctors’ efforts to treat the infection, it spread rapidly, causing unbelievable pressure around his brain. The pressure eventually pushed part of his brain into his spinal column, paralyzing him, making him a permanent quadriplegic dependent on a ventilator to breathe.

Josh died two weeks later. He was just 27.

The tragic, unnecessary, and lasting impact of the loss of our son continues to this day. Our family has never recovered from Josh’s death. We feel overwhelming sadness and a great sense of loss. No holiday dinner or special family celebration ever passes without the haunting reminder of a lone chair that remains empty.

Since Josh’s death, we have devoted our lives to bringing attention to the serious problem of health-care acquired infections and the need for better practices, education, and solutions. We’ve learned that antibiotic-resistant gram-negative bacterial infections are a serious problem. Because they are resistant to virtually every antibiotic we have, they are one of our greatest public health threats.

Looking to the future, we hope patients and their families educate themselves on how to safely receive medical care before being admitted to a hospital to help prevent infections. Everyone who comes into contact with patients should practice appropriate hand hygiene. Lastly, we hope drug companies will invest in more research to fight these dangerous and sometimes deadly bacteria to prevent more people from suffering.

We look forward to a time when these infections no longer threaten to cut short the lives of the ones we love so much.

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