In 2006, Tim Hayden was 34, healthy and enjoying family life.
Then a superficial scratch on his knuckle changed his life forever.
Necrotizing fasciitis, known colloquially as the “flesh-eating disease,” is a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly through the body and destroys tissue under the skin.
The infection, commonly caused by group A streptococcus (strep), enters the body through cuts, burns, insect bites, puncture wounds or surgical wounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the fall of 2006, Hayden woke with flu-like symptoms and red streaks running up his arms and across his torso. His son insisted that he go to the hospital.
An infectious disease specialist, who happened to walk into the room where Hayden was with another physician, immediately identified the signs of necrotizing fasciitis and began emergency treatment, which included multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy.
The infection can lead to amputations and often turns deadly if not treated swiftly. There are about 1,200 cases from group A strep annually in the U.S., and up to one in three patients die from the infection, according to the CDC.
“You’ve got minutes, hours, maybe a day,” Hayden said.
Hayden considers himself lucky for receiving rapid treatment on a deadly infection that entered his body through a scratch on his knuckle. But the incident was physically, financially and emotionally taxing.
“It affects you mentally,” Hayden said. “You can have survivor’s guilt.”
In 2016, Hayden decided to form an online support group with a fellow survivor from Texas.
One year later, Hayden launched the Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation, which celebrates three years today.
The Owensboro-based foundation has since added branches in Indianapolis and Texas, and Hayden eventually would like to see all 50 states represented.
“Our main goal is to raise awareness,” said Hayden, who operates as co-CEO.
Since launching, the foundation has successfully had May. 31 designated as “Necrotizing Fasciitis Awareness Day.” Every year, the foundation writes to every governor in the U.S. to request proclamations.
The foundation, with input from the support group members, created a ribbon unique to necrotizing fasciitis survivors: teal for emotional healing, purple for wounds acquired and white stars to represent the individuals lost to necrotizing fasciitis.
Hayden also advocates for improved medical training to achieve earlier diagnoses, federal recognition and more scientific study.
“There needs to be more steady research on this,” Hayden said.
Each year, the foundation fundraises through 5K events. Due to current gathering limitations, the foundation decided to host a virtual 5K on Oct. 24. (A handful of locals will participate at Yellow Creek Park next week.)
Individuals interested in supporting the foundation can participate by registering and then recording their miles online. Participants receive running shorts and awareness items, and they can post pictures to social media using #NFF5K2020.
“They can go outside or even do it on a treadmill,” Hayden said. “We just want to increase awareness and promote people to push themselves.”