PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — An Orange Beach man is thankful to doctors for saving his hand and his life after an injury led to flesh eating bacteria spreading to his arm.

“I started going down hill bad and I’m not a sickly person,” Cliff Strickland Sr. said. “My hand was really swelling up. I was getting blisters on it.”

In January, Strickland was working on his farm in Orange Beach and he accidentally drilled a screw into his hand. That quickly became necrotizing fasciitis which is flesh eating bacteria.

“Within 24 hours, it’s a ticking time bomb,” Dr. Cory Lebowitz said. “It can attack the body at a very rapid rate.”

Dr. Lebowitz, an orthopedic hand surgeon, and his team at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital saved Strickland’s hand. Lebowitz said this could’ve happened not necessarily from bacteria on the screw but bacteria we all have on our skin that get in through the puncture.

“It can be a result of normal flesh bacteria that live on our flesh normally that can get introduced into the deeper portion of our tissue,” Lebowitz said.

Flesh eating bacteria can quickly spread to the blood stream and become deadly. Dr. Lebowitz was relieved that wasn’t the case here.

“To be able to survive this and talk about it is one thing but to be able to have full mobility of their limb within six months of the injury is a miracle,” he said.

Strickland said he’s still nervous to work on the farm even though doctors say his accident is rare.

“It changed my life,” Strickland said. “Ya know, I take one day at a time. I’m happy to be here.”
Strickland said he has learned a lesson he hopes will help others.

“If you get a cut and it starts getting a red circle around it, pay attention,” he said. “24 hours, 48 hours..if it gets bigger then you better come on and get in..don’t sit there.”

Strickland said his hand is about 85 percent healed. He just recently retired and moved to Orange Beach from North Georgia.