Shannon Hesla with daughers Mira, 1, and Olivia, 4, during a trip to the playground Thursday. The family is hoping for the quick return home of their father Jonathan who is battling necrotizing fasciitis. Mark Brett/Western News

Penticton dad battling flesh-eating disease

A Penticton man is in hospital with flesh-eating disease

There’s a glimmer of hope for a Penticton father of two in his battle with the deadly necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating disease.

Jonathan Hesla, who turned 40 in June, is not entirely out of the woods yet, but this week he was moved from the intensive care unit at Penticton Regional Hospital to the south pavilion wing. He has had two major surgeries to remove dead flesh, including some muscle tissue. Unlike many others with the disease, he has so far avoided amputation.

“I don’t think he has fully grasped it yet. He’s still in survival mode,” said Jonathan’s wife Shannon, who described her husband as a strong, sensitive soul. “I can talk about it, but I think in the next couple of weeks when things start to settle down it will really hit me. I have to be there for the girls.

“I told him a little bit, that there’s a funding page and people sending messages and saying prayers and he started crying. He was so overwhelmed just to know that he’s so loved and that everyone wants to help.”

She added their daughters, Olivia, 4, and Mira, 1, are not fully aware of what their father is facing but definitely know something is wrong.

“Olivia is really smart and she knows dad is in the hospital and the doctors are taking care of him, Mira doesn’t have any sense of what’s going on but she’s definitely out of sorts, more clingy,” said Shannon. “They haven’t seen him yet. We’ve sent some pictures and did some video but it’s just too much to take them to the hospital, it’s just so exhausting for him right now, even with me there.”

It was the first week of July when Jonathan began experiencing problems, including leg and back pain, swelling and nausea that, unknown to the Hesla’s at the time, are all signs of necrotizing fasciitis.

“At first it didn’t really cause a lot of concern for the doctors. He needed some fluids and complained about his back pain and at that point they gave him some morphine and sent him on his way,” said Shannon. “The next night he was in so much pain and they noticed he was getting a rash on the back of his legs and it started to grow really fast. At that point they decided there’s something else going on.”

That was when the nightmare really began.

“I had my days and moments, definitely for the first week I was somewhat in shock and I was very much just in the moment,” said Shannon. “I was just going from one test to the other just trying to stay focused, my body was just on adrenaline mode. They honestly thought he was going to die and when the doctors think that…”

There is some thought the infection got into his system through his leg where he regularly gives himself injections for another medical condition.

But what has helped Shannon and the girls has been the overwhelming support from family, friends and even strangers.

“I’m already working two jobs (Jonathan was taking a course to become a psychiatric nurse), so it’s really humbling to see people doing anything they can, whether it’s just a kind word, giving of their time or money, it’s amazing,” said Shannon. “I’m just like so blown away, it’s so humbling. We have friends dropping off food, someone just dropped off a coffee for me this morning.

“Normally I’m pretty stubborn, ‘no thanks, I can do it myself,’ but you know what, if someone wants to drop off a meal, yes please, I’d be happy to accept it.”

Jonathan’s sister Amy has started a YouCaring page (www.youcaring.com/jonathanandshannonhesla-873727) to help the family.

From all that has happened in the last two weeks to her family, Shannon has had several realizations: “We’re just so fortunate for everyday and to just live life to its fullest. This has really made me realize what is really important in life even though this will be a long road, no matter which direction it takes us in.”

 

Jonathan Hesla in his bed in the intensive care unit at Penticton Regional Hospital after being diagnosed with flesh-eating disease. He has since been transferred out of ICU and his progress is looking much better. Submitted photo

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