• Published
  • By Staff. Sgt. CASSANDRA LOCKE
  • 43rd Air Wing Public Affairs, Pope AFB, N.C.
Deployed to Southwest Asia to support the war on terrorism, Staff Sgt. Stephen Jones went to bed one night not feeling quite right. He felt tingling in his fingers and toes and had a high fever and chills.

Two years later, Jones, a fuels journeyman from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., still credits reading his Airman's Manual and paying attention at his pre-deployment self-aid and buddy care training as saving his life. He said the training made him realize that the symptoms he was experiencing weren't anything to mess around with; they were serious.

He sought medical attention immediately.

What Jones thought to be a strained leg muscle turned out to be a flesh-eating bacterial infection that could have killed him had he not sought immediate treatment. Doctors treated the sergeant for necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria).

"If he would have come two or three days later, he may not have survived," said Maj. (Dr.) Crystine Lee, a general surgeon from Travis AFB, Calif., who was assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group at the time.

Had Jones waited even another 24 hours for treatment, they may have had to amputate his leg, the doctor said.

"I knew something was wrong," Jones said. "I knew I had to take action even though I felt normal five minutes before."

At the clinic, the staff found his white blood cell count to be nearly three times higher than normal. After examining his leg, the doctor diagnosed the problem: an infected blood clot in the sergeant's leg.

Lee and her team didn't hesitate. They prepped and then performed surgery on Jones, removing the bacterially infected tissue.

"Our role ... is to keep our warfighters fit to fight, which includes everything from preventive measures to intervention for life threatening problems," the doctor said. (Sergeant Jones) was being poisoned, so we had to act fast."

Lee said, while rare, this kind of infection can start from a scratch, bug bite or a cut. It most commonly occurs when streptococcus bacteria enters from a wound.

"We're not sure why Sergeant Jones developed his infection since he had no point of entry," Lee said. "His case took everyone by surprise."

According to the doctor, Jones may have been unlucky to be one of the rare cases to get the flesh-eating bacteria, but he's lucky to have survived the deadly infection no worse for wear -- except for the nearly foot-long scar along his shinbone.

In addition to being thankful for the medical experts that treated him, Jones credits "all the training briefings" for saving his life. After his ordeal, he stresses to anyone who will listen that all Airmen should take self-aid and buddy care training seriously and review their Airman's Manual regularly.

He did, and he survived.