‘I’m so happy to be here’: Winnipeg man’s experience with necrotizing fasciitis

For Kyle Lemke, a walk through his Winnipeg neighbourhood in the North End is a gift.

“I’m so happy to be here,” he said.

In September 2023, Kyle Lemke began to feel sick while visiting a friend in downtown Winnipeg.

“I thought it was a flu,” he said.

He went home and took some painkillers, but the feeling persisted. Then, his right knee started to swell.

“In the morning, the pain was just so bad that I could not bear it anymore,” he said. “I’ve never gone through unbearable pain like that. Like, there’s just nothing I could take or do that would solve that.”

Lemke eventually got himself to the hospital — but he wouldn’t find out his diagnosis until weeks later.

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“A doctor came in and said, ‘We’re going to have to have to put you out for a bit.’” he said. “I’m thinking I’ll probably wake up tomorrow or something and this will be solved. And I woke up a month later, and all my family and tons of doctors are standing around.”

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Lemke had necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease that Manitoba Public Health says is fatal in 20-30 per cent of cases. It can spread up to 3 cm per hour.

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“Necrotizing fasciitis is an infection or a process that can be caused by a number of different organisms. Group A streptococcus is one of them,” said Dr. John Embil, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at Health Sciences Centre.

Embil adds the bacteria is the same that causes infections like strep throat and is most often transmitted from person to person. With early intervention, Embil says the survival rate is very good, and that a key marker of the disease is pain that’s much worse than the area appears.

“That aggressive intervention is usually an aggressive surgery to cut away all of the dead and affected tissue, so you decrease the load of bacteria in the soft tissues,” he said, adding patients also need antibiotic support.

It wasn’t until Lemke woke up from surgery that he was told how close he was to losing his leg. Lemke underwent skin grafts to cover the portion of his leg doctors cut away, from roughly mid-thigh to mid-calf, which he says he “embraces like a tattoo.”

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Lemke encountered another setback while in hospital — his apartment was broken into. But despite this and the year-long recovery process, Lemke says the ordeal has changed his outlook on life. He’s also thankful to the health-care staff who saved his life.

“You realize how much you worry about,” he said. “And then if you’re blessed to wake up again… it’s definitely changed me.”

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