LI Man's Ordeal Shows Perils of Hospital Infection

Newsday—January 8, 2012

Paul Dlug, a retired mathematics teacher, was having more fun than he had experienced in years dancing with his wife, Rita Marie, when he tripped over a chair and broke his hip.

"I was at a St. Patty's Day dance," said Dlug, 66, of Miller Place. "I didn't see that chair."

His fall in the spring of 2010 marked the beginning of a health care nightmare, Dlug said.

He acquired a staphylococcus -- staph -- infection at the local hospital where he underwent emergency hip-replacement surgery.

Harmless on the skin, staph can turn deadly when it burrows deeply, spreads throughout the body and coats an implant, according to Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, who helped cure Dlug.

Long, painful recovery

Dlug was confined for 38 days in three different hospitals because of the infection. He spent eight weeks on potent antibiotic therapy; eight months in a wheelchair, and eight more weeks undergoing physical therapy.

"It felt like a knife going through my leg," Dlug said of the excruciating pain caused by festering staph.

Dlug is one of 18,572 patients in New York State who contracted a health care-linked infection in 2010, the most recent year for complete statistics.

Numerous infection control initiatives have been sponsored by the Greater New York Hospital Association, the nonprofit that represents the state's public and private hospitals. The association's most recent statistics reveal their programs are helping to beat back potentially dangerous bacteria.

At Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, which performs the largest number of joint replacement operations in the state, doctors have achieved one of the lowest infection rates in the country -- 0.5 percent per every 100 operations.

Surgeons there wear spacesuit-like surgical garb, equipped with its own air supply. The surgical table is surrounded by a Plexiglas shield.

Dr. Westrich, who is co-chairman of the hospital's infection control committee, helped cure Dlug of his staph infection by removing the artificial hip implanted at his local hospital and inserting a new joint.

It was a laborious undertaking, Westrich said, performed in stages over many weeks to prevent the infection from coming back.

"A lot of patients think if they get an infection they can just get some antibiotics and the infection will go away," Westrich said. "But bacteria are very smart now.

"They stick to artificial implants whether it's a knee, a hip or heart valve and form a slime layer on the implant. This prevents the antibiotics from killing them.

"The only way to solve the problem," Westrich added, "is to take the prosthesis out."

Read the full story at newsday.com (subscription required).

Read more about the low infection rates at Hospital for Special Surgery.

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