Fall at NC boat ramp leads to man losing leg to flesh-eating bacteria


HAMPSTEAD, N.C. (WNCT) – Bryan Ward is like many others who have grown up in Eastern North Carolina their entire life. He loves the outdoors and spends as much time as possible on the water.

But what seemed like a normal trip out on the boat in June quickly took a turn for the worse. While loading the boat on a boat ramp, Ward slipped and fell.

“Algae was there so it was kind of like ice,” he said. “So I just picked up speed and slid right off the side of the concrete.”

During that fall, Ward cut open his leg. At the time, he tried to rinse it out with water and peroxide, but after a few hours, he realized that wasn’t going to be enough.

After several trips to the hospital, Ward was eventually put into the Intensive Care Unit at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, diagnosed with a flesh eating bacteria called Vibrio Vulnificus.


The bacteria is naturally found in water, especially warm salt water.

When treatment in the hospital failed to work, Ward was left with only one option.

“I had a real bad gut feeling that if I didn’t cut that leg off, I was going to die in the hospital in the next two days,” he said.

So that is exactly what happened. Rather than go through more pain as doctors tried to treat the bacteria, he decided to have his right leg, from just above the knee, amputated.

Dr. Paul Cook with the Brody School of Medicine said when it comes to that type of reaction to the bacteria, amputation is really the only way to save a person’s life.

“It’s hours, it’s not days,” he said.

But Cook also said very few people will even become sick due to Vibrio Vulnificus. He said people who have liver disease and other immune deficiencies tend to have the most severe reactions.

Ward said he has suffered blood clots for years, and believes the blood thinners he’s on had something to do with his reaction.

Cook said it doesn’t take much for the bacteria to enter a person’s body.

“A fairly minor cut or inoculation and then within several hours it can actually become septic and have serious skin conditions,” he said.

Ward is using his experience to raise awareness about the bacteria, and to tell everyone that cuts in the water can be serious. He encourages everyone to see a doctor if they notice something unusual after cutting themselves in the water.

Ward’s family has set up a GoFundMe page to cover his medical expenses. To donate, click here.

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