A Lauderdale County man remains hospitalized with an infection caused by a flesh-eating bacteria, his family said.
Ricky Rutherford remains at North Alabama Medical Center following a surgery last week to remove a 5- to 6-inch infected section on his inner thigh, said his wife, Cassey Rutherford.
"That's the part where the tissue had died," she said.
She said doctors told them Monday that Ricky Rutherford's condition is improving, but as of Tuesday they still were having trouble lowering the amount of oxygen they need to give him.
"They're trying to get his oxygen down and he's not doing well without it," she said.
There still are signs of infection, and doctors are waiting to see whether it will clear up on its own, or additional surgery is needed, said his wife, who has remained at his bedside throughout the ordeal.
"It's kind of wait and see," she said.
Cassey said doctors told them the disease is called necrotizing fasciitis and came from water bacteria.
She said they kayaked and swam in Second Creek in Waterloo on July 6, and two days later Ricky Rutherford had a 103-degree temperature.
He took off a day from work but returned the following day. He had a rash on his upper right thigh that was red, swollen and growing. He was running a 105-degree temperature Tuesday night, so they returned to the hospital, where he has remained.
The rash spread to his hip and stomach area, his wife said.
"It's pretty scary stuff," she said.
She added her husband still is in pain, but the worst pain was before he had surgery Friday because there was so much swelling at the time.
The Rutherfords have eight children, including five foster children, ages 2 to 21, Cassey said.
She said an account has been set up at Bank Independent to assist the family financially, and friends were setting up a Go Fund Me account.
She said people who have suffered or had a family member suffer from a flesh-eating bacteria have reached out to the Rutherfords on social media.
"We've had people message us saying don't give up hope, that's what happened to them, but it's all been different," she said. "Some have recovered in weeks, some months, some years."
Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said rivers, lakes and oceans are "natural habitats" for some organisms that can carry diseases.
She said ways to protect yourself include avoiding entering the water if you have a cut or wound.
"This time of year is when you're going to see more of this," she said. "This is when people are going to be in the water."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states necrotizing fasciitis is a fast-spreading illness.
"Accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment, and prompt surgery are important to stopping this infection," the agency's website states.
The word necrotizing means "causing the death of tissues" while fasciitis means "inflammation of the fascia," which is "tissue under the skin that surrounds muscles, nerves, fat and blood vessels," the site states.