A Baytown man has died from illness caused by exposure to a rare pathogen often referred to as flesh-eating bacteria.
Thomas Jesse Shurley, 52, died Tuesday night of multiple organ failure following a three-week battle against the infection. He had suffered a scrape on his knee while fishing in Galveston Bay on July 26, family members said. The bacteria, most often encountered in seawater, rapidly spread throughout his body, and even the amputation of his leg could not stop it.
“It's really a shock to the entire family,” said his daughter, Shaunte Angelo. “He was young and full of life. We never saw this coming.”
The incident occurred when Shurley was fishing alone close to shore in a small jon boat. The boat tipped over and he scraped his left knee while righting it. Shurley felt sick the next day but thought little of it. By Tuesday evening, his knee was so swollen and he felt so bad that friends took him to Baytown Methodist Hospital, fearing he had broken it.
“The doctors ran some tests and figured out what it was,” Angelo said. “They asked him if he wanted to lose his leg or his life. Of course, he chose his leg.”
The next day Shurley was taken by Life Flight to St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. He was placed on a ventilator and never regained full consciousness, his daughter said. Infected tissue was surgically removed, and later most of his leg. But there was little hope once the infection spread through his blood and most of his organs, she said.
He was taken off life support at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and died about five hours later.
“If he had gone to the hospital Monday morning, the day after he hurt his knee, he might have been fine,” Angelo said. “But who would have thought to do that for a scrape?”
The medical name for Shurley's illness is necrotizing fasciitis. It is caused by several kinds of bacteria, the most common of which is Streptococcus pyogenes, the same thing that causes strep throat and impetigo. Another bacterium sometimes involved — as in Shurley's case — is Vibrio vulnificus.
Such infections, often mild, can become life-threatening for people with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or hepatitis. Shurley suffered from hepatitis C, Angelo said.
Shurley was a sales manager at Gyro Chemical and Equipment Company in Deer Park, which specializes in industrial cleaning supplies.