Daniel Lively said he contracted necrotizing fasciitis, commonly referred to as flesh-eating bacteria, while visiting the St. Johns River during spring break.
Lively said he was climbing out of the water when someone pushed him back into the river. He said he scraped his calf on a nail in a dock.
"I didn't really think much of it. It was just, like, a small, black mark," he said. "The night was terrible. I just felt so sick, so out of sorts the whole time."
Lively said he returned home from the trip the next day to celebrate his mother's birthday.
"Getting home, I immediately went to sleep," he said. "I just said, 'Happy birthday,' and went right into my room. I was just so tired."
Deanne Schulz, Lively's mother, said he was limping and collapsed from exhaustion.
"Within four hours, he was incredibly sick – so sick that he had a fever. He was vomiting. He thought he just had the flu," she said. "He came home the next day, and he was not himself."
Lively said he underwent three surgeries during his 11-day hospitalization.
His surgeon, Dr. Nathan DeAngelis, said Lively's youth, his health and his prompt seeking of medical treatment were critical to his recovery.
"These infections can be pretty aggressive, so if you don't get to them early and get this tissue out that is dying, this bacteria can continue to spread up the leg, and it can be very devastating for people," DeAngelis said. "Limbs can be lost."
He said few patients are as fortunate as Lively was.
"Thankfully for him, he was one of the lucky ones (who) didn't require many surgeries," DeAngelis said. "But I've seen people go through multiple surgeries on the same day even and lose limbs."
Lively, who has fully recovered, said he hopes people will educate themselves about the risks of the infection but not let fear hinder them from enjoying their lives.
"Be cognizant of everything, because I had no idea what any of this was before it happened," he said. "Don't avoid all the water outright, just be aware of things that are out there and try to have fun, too."
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