On December 30th, 2013, Joe Scally applied a dermatologist-prescribed cream for the removal of pre-cancerous cells – he never expected that within days he would almost lose a limb, or worse.
The next day Joe headed to the gym, when he noticed his arm had begun to hurt. He arrived home and found he’d had a reaction to the cream on one arm and had blisters on the other. Knowing he had an appointment two days later with a family doctor for blood work, he decided to discontinue use of the cream and hold off on consulting anyone until the appointment.
But on New Year’s Day Joe woke up extremely ill; he was vomiting and had a fever. Joe’s wife, Debbie, remembers telling him, “Your arm looks funny. It’s red and swollen and you are deathly ill. Do we need to go to the Emergency Room?”
But Joe again declined seeking help.
By 7:30 p.m. that evening, the illness was overwhelming and Joe finally gave in, asking to go to the ER. Within 20 minutes, the couple was at Mt. Pleasant Hospital. The doctors rushed him in and removed his jacket to find his arm was turning black. Soon after, Debbie noticed Joe’s mind was not fully there, he couldn’t hear her and he resisted the nurse’s effort to insert an IV.
“Something’s wrong – this isn’t like him,” Debbie pled with nurses as the arm continued to swell. Joe and Debbie’s daughter, one of their three children, searched for the head nurse, knowing her father needed more attention.
When the emergency room doctor arrived, he brought Joe straight to the Intensive Care Unit, just as his arm burst open. They started him on broad spectrum antibiotics, at this point still clueless as to the cause of the sudden illness.
The next morning another doctor evaluated him, quickly recognizing the severity of the case and putting him on a helicopter to Tyler.
It was in Tyler that Joe was first treated by Dr. Carey Clark, an orthopedic surgeon with Azalea. Dr. Clark observed a dangerously low blood pressure. Joe’s son, a paramedic, was surprised he could even speak.
Joe continued to surprise everyone.
Dr. Clark quickly diagnosed Necrotizing Fasciitis, a rare and serious bacterial infection that spreads rapidly, destroying the body’s soft tissue. He was bluntly clear with the Scally family that Joe would either lose his arm or his life.
He was rushed to surgery to remove the infected skin, and suffered kidney failure. After the surgery Dr. Clark informed the family he wasn’t sure if Joe would make it through the night, and if he did, he may still lose his arm, toes, fingers, or other limbs.
But Joe fought, and Dr. Clark operated proficiently.
Joe is the owner of two Dairy Queens, one in Mt. Vernon and the other in Sulphur Springs. At the height of his illness, his staff and community held a prayer vigil outside the Mt. Vernon location, gathering over 200 people in 15 degree weather to pray for him.
“I’ve got a feeling that’s why I’m still here – other than Dr. Clark’s expertise,” remarked Joe in an interview a few weeks later.
His community rallied for him, and Joe made it through that night. The next day he underwent dialysis and had another surgery.
All in all, Joe made it through 8 surgeries due to the dangerous bacterial infection that had infected his open wound from the cream. By January 18th, he could be relocated to Parkland. The doctors there told Joe that his doctor in Tyler had done such a thorough job removing the bacteria, that they hardly did anything other than plastic surgery.
On Valentine’s Day, Joe was finally released from the hospital. “That was a great Valentine’s Day,” Debbie noted.
The Scally family is so thankful for Dr. Clark. “We went back and saw him a couple weeks after I got out and thanked him. He is amazing, he saved my life,” says Joe.
Joe’s story is a traumatic reminder to take skin reactions and infections seriously. Don’t hesitate to contact a doctor if you experience abnormal reactions to drugs, or infected wounds.