Stephen "Steamer" Johnson is in a hospital room at the Hilo Medical Center. The 71-year-old Kihei, Maui, man has been there since contracting a rare flesh-eating bacteria after swimming in a Big Island pond nearly a month ago.
Johnson was visiting his daughter and house-sitting in Orchidland when he took a bike ride to the Kapoho area to swim at the Ahalanui Park hot pond on Aug. 31.
"I stopped alongside the road to pick up a lilikoi that I saw -- I'm kinda partial to them -- and I'm turning around to get the lilikoi and I scratched my shin on my bike pedal, and when I got down to the pond I was bleeding," said Johnson.
Johnson said he began to get chills and a fever less than 24 hours after swimming in the pond. "my leg was hot and red," he said. "my friend came over and said 'you're going to the hospital.'"
Johnson said his doctors diagnosed him with the flesh-eating bacteria, which had spread to five different places on his right leg. He said that for a while, he didn't know whether he would lose the leg.
"My daughter came with my grandkids and they prayed over my leg," he said, "and I got very emotional about that."
"After the surgery the doctor said that it didn't hit the muscles, so it's been okay," he said. He's been able to walk around his hospital room.
Johnson underwent skin graft surgery Friday afternoon. Doctors used skin from his left leg to cover the areas on his right leg that were damaged by the bacteria. He expects to remain in the hospital for another week or two.
"I feel very, very fortunate," he said. "I heard some lady died recently from it, a young lady in her 30s. Others had to have hands, limbs removed, you know. Feet, legs. So I dodged a pretty big bullet there."
A spokesman for the Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Department said there are signs warning against swimming in the hot pond with an open wound. Johnson said he didn't see the signs.
The park has also been closed until test results on the water come back. The county has not confirmed a link between the pond and Johnson's case.
Johnson said he'll be wary about going back into the water. "I skin dive and snorkel, but I have definite thoughts about going in anywhere where it's not clear and clean in the ocean," he said.
"I'm probably going to do all my swimming in the pool from now on."
Copyright 2013 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.
1115 Mt. Auburn Road
Public File Contact: