It seemed like nothing at first. The red patch that appeared on Roy Brillon's thigh could have been a spider bite. But as the weeks passed, it grew and grew. By December 2004, the innocuous-looking bump had become an open wound the size of the palm of his hand. Brillon's doctor, Randy Wolcott, prescribed just about every antibiotic he could think of to cure the infection, but the lesion just got worse. "It was really bad," says Brillon, a 62-year-old retired housepainter from Lubbock, Texas. "I had to give up work because I couldn't climb ladders anymore."
Brillon felt like he was being eaten away from the inside out. And in a very real sense, he was. Left unchecked, bacteria like the streptococcus and staphylococcus devour soft tissue to keep themselves alive, leaving ragged red edges that expand outward with terrifying aggression. The pain in his leg was so excruciating that Wolcott prescribed morphine. "I was only supposed to take two pills a day, but I was taking three in the morning and three in the afternoon," he says. "The pain is indescribable. You just grit your teeth."
As head of Lubbock's Southwest Regional Wound Care Center, Wolcott knew well the typical prognosis for patients with antibiotic-resistant infections like Brillon's: gangrene, amputation and, for about 100,000 Americans a year, death. " 'Chronic wound' is a code word for 'you can't heal it,' " he says. "The hallmark is, we cut it off or we cut it out. It's pretty barbaric." Wolcott was desperate for an alternative. After putting in 10-hour days at the clinic, he often sat up late at night poring over medical journals for the newest wound-care research—something, anything that might help patients with the most intractable infections.single page
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