This Man Was Almost Eaten Alive By “Flu”, Now A Tattoo Has Changed His Life Forever

 It's a sad reality of life that sometimes the most innocuous of ailments can turn out to be something a lot more serious. Now that the summer is well and truly upon us, people around the world are being urged to heed the advice of experts and stay well clear of tanning oil. To emphasize this point, the headlines have been littered with stories of people whose seemingly innocent spots turned out to be skin cancer.

However, few people realize that it's not just obvious dangers like the sun that can threaten our lives. In fact, it can be something as simple as a common complaint that we can all attest to having multiple times: the cold. For one man, a cold cost him his lips and all his limbs back in December 2013 - a time of year when most of us would brush off the illness as nothing more than a side effect of the weather.
 Thirty-eight-year-old Alex Lewis' horrific ordeal began back in November 2013. He claims he had flu symptoms for about two weeks and then one night discovered blood in his urine. Needless to say, this was the first sign that something was seriously wrong.
 Prior to falling ill, the 38-year-old had been a pub landlord with a fiancée and young son, who had absolutely everything to live for.
 The day after discovering blood in his urine, Alex's condition deteriorated further. His limbs had started to turn purple and he had difficulty moving. Lewis was rushed to the hospital where doctors discovered he was suffering from much more than the flu.

Lewis had contracted a very rare Strep A Group A Streptococcal Infection, which was progressing to toxic shock syndrome, septicemia, and necrotizing fasciitis - or, in other words, he was suffering from a deadly flesh-eating disease.
 The odds of contracting this are slimmer than winning the lottery. Within hours, his condition deteriorated as the bacteria took over. He was placed in intensive care and would undergo multiple surgeries to control the spread of the infection.
 "I was in intensive care for six or seven weeks and was having surgery every other day," Lewis told the Daily Mail. "Basically, the infection is trying to get to your heart through your body. It starts in your fingertips, your toes and your nose."

Lewis's legs turned black within only a few days and his family was told to say their goodbyes. Doctors performed amputations of all four of his limbs as well as his lips, but it was not a guarantee of survival. Lewis's infection was severe and he is extremely lucky to have lived.

Necrotizing fasciitis, or the flesh-eating disease, is caused by a bacteria that can enter the body through a small cut or scrape. Early symptoms include small red bumps on the skin, sweating, chills, nausea, fever, and rapidly spreading bruising. Shock and organ failure will follow this.
 The bacteria release toxins that kill healthy tissue and doctors must use strong courses of antibiotics and well as surgery to remove the dead flesh to control the infection. There are between 500 and 1500 cases reported each year and approximately 25% of these cases are fatal.

While Lewis did survive, he was left with life-altering amputations and a long road to recovery. One concern was that because his lips were cut away, he was left with a gaping hole over his mouth. He had a temporary flap of skin placed over the hole but it was not a long-term solution.
 "It would take me about an hour to eat a sandwich at night, and that was with the help of the nurse," Lewis said. Now, in a world-first procedure, Lewis has had skin taken from his shoulder to reconstruct both his upper and lower lips at the same time.

The skin from his shoulder was chosen because it had not previously been used for grafting and was not scarred or damaged by the bacteria. Surgeons used naturally fattier tissue for his lips while thinning out the other skin over time so that it better blended into this face.
 It took multiple operations, but Lewis is now able to use his mouth, seal his lips, and has a better function for speech, eating, drinking, and oral hygiene. While his new lips may not ever match the ones he lost, some innovative tattooing has helped them to look natural.

Tattoo artist Karen Betts worked for free to tattoo red coloring onto Lewis's lips, as well as add freckles and stubble marks to make the grafted skin appear more like the rest of his face. The results are impressive and have helped Lewis regain his confidence.
 Perhaps most impressive is that this reconstruction has helped Lewis regain the connection he had lost with his son, Sam, who was just three-years-old when Lewis became ill. Sam was traumatized by what had happened and had a difficult time adjusting.
 "He was so scared he wouldn't even come up to me to hug me. He knew it was daddy, but he couldn't work out what was wrong," Lewis said.

He continued, "We had this amazing bond before I fell ill - we were inseparable - but it was cut immediately. I never thought I'd get that back. It has taken a long, long time to get back to where we were but we are now and we have been for six months."

Lewis, along with his now wife Lucy and his son, Sam, who is now seven, now runs the Alex Lewis Trust, which is hoping to raise money for quality prosthetics. Lewis isn't letting life slow him down, and since his illness, he has skydived, kayaked, and has plans to handcycle Ethiopia's tallest mountain.

We wish Alex and his family all the best.
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