EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island medical team is being honored for saving a veteran who contracted a life-threatening infection.

Timothy Callahan, 26, of Farmingdale, fought in the Persian Gulf and helped earthquake victims in Haiti. But the veteran’s biggest fight came at home when a rare flesh-eating bacteria attacked his arm.

1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reports

Callahan went to Nassau University Medical Center three weeks ago. His organs were shutting down because of what he later learned was flesh-eating bacteria, CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.

The bacteria ate away at most of Tim’s upper arm. He told Gusoff he doesn’t know where he got the infection, but doctors say it can come from anywhere.

“It can come from a scratch in the garden, a cut from fishing,” said Dr. Louis Riina of the Nassau University Medical Center Burn Center.

“I didn’t know it was a full-blown infection until my whole arm was swollen,” Callahan said. “I couldn’t move it.”

Click here to see photos of the infection (WARNING: GRAPHIC)

Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare and life-threatening flesh-eating bacteria. Patients diagnosed with the infection have a mortality rate of 73 percent. Awareness of the condition has increased nationally after a 24-year-old Georgia woman developed necrotizing fasciitis after cutting her leg in a fall from a homemade zip line earlier this month. Aimee Copeland has had both her hands and left leg amputated.

Callahan was released from the hospital on Tuesday after three weeks of treatment and several surgeries to get rid of the flesh-eating bacteria.

“What they did was amazing,” Callahan said. “I’m very grateful.”

Callahan was immersed in hydrotherapy to remove the dead skin  and hyperbaric oxygen therapy to heal, Gusoff reported. He underwant multiple  skin graphs. Doctors said his case should serve as a warning because flesh-eating bacteria can become deadly in as little as 24 hours.

“It feels great that you come home and people care about veterans who have issues — and there are people here to help them,” Callahan said.

Doctors said a year from now you wouldn’t know Callahan ever fought this battle. He’ll regain full use of his arm and his skin should be perfectly healed, Gusoff reported.

To reduce the risk of infection, doctors say all cuts  should be cleaned immediately, treated with anti-biotic ointment and covered.


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