Recently retired Austin race director John Conley, who spent three weeks in Hawaii fighting a case of necrotizing fasciitis, returned to Austin this week and is preparing for more surgery.
Conley was vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii when he came down with the rare bacterial infection, also known as flesh-eating bacteria, after swimming in a shallow tide pool near Hilo. He underwent two surgeries at Hilo Regional Medical Center in Hawaii to remove affected tissue, and nearly lost his leg.
Necrotizing fasciitis, a serious bacterial skin infection, spreads quickly and kills the body’s soft tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2010, approximately 700 to 1,100 cases of necrotizing fasciitis caused by group A strep have occurred each year in the United States, according to the agency.
Conley will be admitted to Brackenridge Hospital for surgery on Thursday. Doctors plan to remove skin from his right thigh and graft it to his lower leg.
“The body will do the rest,” Conley said.
If the surgery goes well, he may be released as soon as Friday. But if the grafts don’t take or another problem develops, he may need additional surgery.
“I’m looking at about five or six weeks post surgery before I’m up and around in physical therapy,” he said.
Conley, who spent 19 years as race director of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon and 20 years working with the 3M Half Marathon, said Wednesday that coming back to Texas felt like “a flight to liberation.”
“When we flew over Austin, I literally had tears in my eyes I was so happy,” he said.
Conley says the lower portion of his left leg, which has no fat or fascia, looks like he stepped on a landmine, or a page from an anatomy lesson. He should know; he used to be a nurse. But the muscle looks good, from many years of running.
Conley has been exercising the best he can while he’s in the hospital, doing dips on his walker, squats on his good leg, and a modified version of lunges.
“I’m trying to get my heart rate up, because I’m concerned about being de-trained,” he said.
He’s also drawing inspiration from his friend and local running coach Gilbert Tuhabonye, who was nearly burned to death in a massacre in his homeland of Burundi in 1993. Tuhabonye, who was best man at Conley’s wedding, had skin grafts all over his body.
“If Gilbert can do it, I can do it,” Conley said.