Virginia veteran saves neighbor’s life after exposure to flesh-eating bacteria

NORFOLK. Va. -- A Navy Veteran is being recognized after taking action to save her neighbor's life.

Norfolk resident John Waldbaum had contracted a flesh-eating bacteria last month while fishing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It started with his hand.

“It started getting black and I thought it was just sun poisoning or something," he told WTKR. 

In a day, it had moved up to his arm. He was so sick he barely made it back home, jackknifing his trailer in the front yard and collapsing on the couch. His wife Maria ran next door to their neighbor’s house for help.

Deborah Richard is their neighbor and a retired hospital corpsman.

“Sure enough he was sitting there and looked terrible [we] knew we had to get to the hospital. I knew he had a really bad infection in his arm," Debbie said. “His coloring was gone. His arm was swollen and infected. He was barely breathing.”

From that point on, Debbie would not leave Waldbaum's side until a doctor saw him.

When the doctors saw Waldbaum they rushed him into emergency surgery with what they said was a half hour to spare. The bacteria had spread and would have killed him.

His family rushed to his side and his daughter was beside herself with fear that her father might not make it.

While John did make it through surgery, doctors had to amputate his arm to save his life. But he is still grateful he’s still here, surrounded by those who love him.

John Waldbaum

“I must have had a guardian angel taking care of me because little did I know my vitals were shutting down and I had gotten sepsis," Waldbaum said.

“I am so grateful, she’s an angel, I don’t know what I’d do without my husband," his wife said.

WTKR presented Debbie with a People Taking Action award and a $300 gift card from our community partner Southern Bank.

Since that day,  Maria and John have been trying to find a way to thank Debbie.