Harinder Sandhu is about to leave Royal Jubilee Hospital, some three weeks after contracting flesh eating disease. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Saanich soccer player survives bout with flesh eating disease

Harinder Sandhu picked up the disease after soccer game

Even the smallest injury can cut your life short.

That is message Harinder Sandhu is now sharing more than three weeks after he contracted necrotizing fasciitis, an infection caused by bacteria, hours after playing soccer. According to the medical literature, necrotizing fasciitis is an aggressive form of Strep A, the common bacteria found in human noses that causes nasty throat infections.

The disease, which many know as flesh eating disease, can destroy skin, fat and the tissue covering muscles within a short amount of time. While very rare (Canadian public authorities recorded 4.03 cases per 100,000 in 2009), the disease can quickly lead to the loss of life and limb if not properly treated.

It is against this backdrop that Sandhu encourages children, parents and other authority figures such as coaches to treat even minor injures.

READ ALSO: Canadian stricken with flesh-eating bacteria while on holiday in Asia

“Get the antiseptic on it right away,” he said. “Get your manager or your coach to look at your leg, your eye or head.”

A former Canadian youth star and former professional player, Sandhu was playing for Saanich-based Gorge FC against the Cowichan 49ers for the Tony Grover Memorial Cup on March 31 in Victoria. During the game he suffered a cut on his lower right shin. After receiving treatment on the sideline, Sandhu eventually returned to the game.

Sandhu said doctors do not know how he contracted the disease. He could have been carrying the bacteria on his skin, before it entered his system by way of the open cut, or he could have picked it up from somebody else while in the change room of Royal Athletic Park or the actual game itself by way of a teammate or opponent. At one stage, Sandhu said he thought geese excrement had infected the cut.

“There are like five, six different ways I could have got it, and they are trying to figure it out themselves.”

The next morning, he woke up with his shin heavily swollen. Heavy vomiting followed. This combination of symptoms soon prompted Sandhu to check himself into Royal Jubilee Hospital on April 1.

“I thought maybe my shin broke, because it just killed at the [site of the cut],” he said. “When I got here, my blood pressure was extremely low. My heart rate was too fast.”

Doctors later told him that the infection was spreading up his right leg, with time being of the essence after a blood test had confirmed necrotizing fasciitis.

Sandhu said a doctor later told him that if he had not checked himself into the hospital when he did, the bug could have entered Sandhu’s intestines, which could have proved fatal.

“That is why one in four [cases] die,” said Sandhu. “They come in too late.”

Sandhu might have escaped the worst outcome, but more struggles remained ahead.

Following emergency surgery to remove the infected flesh near the initial injury, Sandhu underwent additional rounds of surgery on his right leg. At one stage, he had to contemplate the choice between losing his leg and survival. Thankfully, surgeons were able to save both, and Sandhu is scheduled to leave the hospital on Thursday of this week.

Extensive physiotherapy remains ahead of him and Sandhu, who represented Canada at the youth level before pursuing a professional career in the United Kingdom, remains amazed by how close of a call he had.

Forever grateful, he now hopes others won’t have the same experience.

“Don’t overlook your cuts,” he said. “Get medical attention as soon as possible. “You never know what is going to happen.”


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