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Long Beach California, 90815-0679
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Feature Stories

Overcoming Obstacles to Ambulate Again

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 1
1/10/2014


By Kirt Ramirez

Gary Hooper at Mobul Los Altos store.
Kirt Ramirez

Fifty-two-year-old Gary Hooper used to take walking for granted.
Now he appreciates every step he can take.

Last August, Hooper helped clean out a friend’s garage – which contained lots of “junk,” tools and automotive parts. Hooper – who had borderline diabetes – took a break after a while and rested on a couch inside the garage.

He took his shoes off – but not the socks – and fell asleep. He woke up with his foot swollen and pink. Four tiny punctures were found – presumably caused by a spider or staple.

For three days it remained swollen and pink. On the fourth day it turned red with a black spot between the big toe and the next toe.
Twelve hours later the black spot enlarged, covering the majority of the foot and blisters formed.

Because of not having medical insurance, Hooper waited for four days hoping the symptoms would subside. He went to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center – a county hospital.

“The doctors expressed it was flesh-eating bacteria and then amputated at the ankle because the infection was too severe,” said Hooper’s girlfriend, Denise Hauk Hensley, during a face-to-face interview at the Mobül home mobility store in Long Beach. In addition to Hensley and Hooper, the group interview included store owner Wayne Slavitt.

Hensley said the doctor told her the bacteria had spread very rapidly and that they were trying to save Hooper’s life.
Hooper remained hospitalized 18 days before being released – without a foot. The doctor sent him home without any further antibiotics, apparently believing the infection was resolved, Hensley said.

However, a week later it returned and worsened. The bacteria traveled up Hooper’s leg resulting in additional amputations to his calf. He spent five more weeks in the hospital.

Hensley – a notary public – notarized something for Slavitt one day at the mobility store and she talked about what had happened, Slavitt explained. Hensley said her boyfriend moved around by crawling and by hopping while holding on to a rollator.

“And I said that is totally unsafe,” said Slavitt, who recommended items to help the situation.

But Hooper – a handyman who could not work now – did not have the funds or insurance. He applied for disability and received $116 per week but that ended December 2.

The special mobility products were out of his price range. The girlfriend and Slavitt thus started a fundraiser for Hooper, where donations can be made through the Mobül store at 2153 Bellflower Blvd. – next to Hof’s Hut. Roughly $200 so far has been raised of the $10,000 goal.

Hooper’s sister purchased a piece of equipment for about $165, which helped her brother walk again just days before Christmas – a crutch-less walker resembling a prosthetic leg.

“Exactly 120 days after he stopped walking, he took his first steps with the aid of the iWalk 2.0,” Hensley said.

“It’s a miracle worker,” Hooper himself declared.

“He couldn’t even stand on his own until he got this on. We were just amazed. That morning we cried,” Hensley added while breaking into tears.

On the wish list remain – among other things – a $1,250 motorized 3-wheel scooter and a $500 knee walker scooter – where a knee rests on a tray and the scooter is pushed with the intact leg.

Meanwhile, Hooper moved in with Hensley and they now share an upstairs apartment in the Bixby Knolls area.

“It’s been quite a journey, but we’re getting there,” she said, adding that Hooper can stand and cook as well as do dishes with the iWalk 2.0 on. “He actually vacuumed with it.”

Hensley added that Mobül’s Slavitt has been wonderful. “It’s nice to have people who can understand what we’re going through and be the emotional support.”

Hooper just received Medi-Cal insurance January 1 but has yet to figure out the details. Because of the trauma, he developed full-blown diabetes requiring insulin.

Asked if anyone would like to add anything, Hooper responded, “Don’t take spider bites lightly.”

Hensley added, “Do not wait. Four days cost him his leg.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports on its website, “Each year in the US, there are about 650-800 cases of necrotizing fasciitis caused by group A strep; this is likely an underestimation as some cases are probably not reported.”

The CDC added that the number of annual infections does not appear to be rising.

The CDC highlights, “If you’re healthy, have a strong immune system and practice good hygiene and proper wound care, your chances of getting necrotizing fasciitis (‘flesh-eating’ bacteria) are extremely low.”

Long Beach Health Officer Mitchell Kushner, MD, said in an e-mail, “Necrotizing fasciitis or invasive group A strep is a very rare disease complication of a common bacterial infection, often found on the skin and in the throat (strep throat). Cases are not reportable, but the frequency and number of these cases has remained relatively low (maybe one case a year or every other year in the Long Beach Health Jurisdiction).

“Most people that come into contact with the bacteria that can cause this severe complication remain well and symptom-free. This severe complication can occur when bacteria get into parts of the body where they are not usually found, such as blood, muscle or lung tissue.

“This can occur when a person has sores or other breaks in the skin that allow the bacteria to get into the tissue, or when the person’s ability to fight off infection is decreased because of other chronic illnesses and a poor functioning immune system.”

The doctor emphasized that “flesh-eating” cases are very rare and that the public should not panic.

“The most important thing to be aware of are early signs and symptoms of invasive group A strep disease, which can include: high fever, severe muscle aches, intense redness at the site of a wound, or localized severe muscle tenderness. One should seek medical attention immediately when these early signs are developing.”

kirt@longbeachcomber.com