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Patient Stories: Tom Dukes

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A healthy and active father in Southern California whose life was torn apart by a painful and drug-resistant E. coli infection.

“I’ve got some bad news,” the doctor in the emergency room told me that Tuesday night in late 2009. “You’re not going home tonight. You’re going to the operating room right now.” My family was gathering around me. When I went to the OR, I said goodbye, and I was scared I wouldn’t see them again. Months later, I’m still trying to get my life back together after an antibiotic-resistant E. coli infection turned my world upside down.

My daughter had taken me to the ER earlier that day because I couldn’t drive — I was doubled over in pain. I had stayed home from work for two days after I began feeling this burning pain that started in my abdomen, spread to my back, and just kept getting worse. It felt like my waist and back were on fire. The day before, I couldn’t touch my abdomen because it hurt so much. I had seen my doctor, who diagnosed it as diverticulitis (inflammation of part of my colon), because several months earlier, I had had a case of diverticulitis, and I quickly improved after taking oral antibiotics. But the same prescription didn’t work this time. By that night, the burning and pain continued to get worse. The next morning, I felt horrible. I took my temperature, and it was actually lower than normal.

I’m a healthy, active person, which made this experience all the more frightening. I go to the gym Monday through Friday at 4:30 a.m. for a two-hour workout. I’ve been doing that for at least 30 years. I lift weights in the mornings, I go hiking along nature trails on the weekends, and I go to the beach and rollerblade. I work all week, and I’m very active all weekend. I love working in the yard and taking care of my home. Plus, I’m a single dad. All of this keeps me busy and in shape. But being healthy wasn’t enough to protect me from this tiny, but brutal foe.

Much of that night in the ER is a blur. They took me in for a CAT scan, and I went back to the waiting room, where I got ice cold and started violently shaking. I was getting alarmed. The doctors told me I had a perforated colon, which had allowed ESBL-producing E. coli, an antibiotic-resistant superbug, to escape and cause the infection that turned my life upside down. In the OR, they removed an 8-inch chunk of my colon, called a colostomy.

I needed special antibiotics, which could only be given intravenously to treat this type of bacterial infection. Oral antibiotics wouldn’t work. Thankfully, the treatment worked. My infection is gone now, and I am waiting for the doctors to fix my colon so I can get my life back. I’ve missed almost three months of work. I lost more than 20 pounds, and I’m trying to get back in shape. I pray that I will be 100 percent soon and that this nasty bacteria is out of my life for good.

I’m left wondering how I became infected with E. coli bacteria and why it’s so resistant to antibiotics. I’ve lived a healthy lifestyle my whole life, but this tiny bacteria almost killed me, and it was a terrifying experience for me and my family.

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