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Of all the motivations to become an infectious disease doctor, this is one of the more unusual paths taken: lose most of one leg and nearly all of your life to a series of recurrent near pan-resistant bacterial infections that you’ve fought for years into remission but still have a 30% chance of coming back and trying to kill you.
Meet David Ricci, a twenty-something Seattle kid with a kind heart and immeasurable resilience: the battler.
“Absolute, I’m hoping to become a doctor,” he says. “I am studying my pre-med requirements to get those out of the way and I am hoping to go into infectious disease. I just started getting really passionate about it. Before any of this happened, before I went to India I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what I wanted to do.”
In June 2011, Ricci was a 19-year-old volunteer at an HIV/AIDS orphanage in Calcutta who took a shortcut one morning across some train tracks. Struck by a rail car, he would have his leg amputated above the knee and then be beset by a grim succession of gram negative infections.
Upon returning to the States he found out his wounds were infected with multiple drug-resistant bacteria – including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Klebsiella pneumoniae -- which carried the New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase (NDM) enzyme. The infections were carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which means treatment options are typically slim and none.
Ricci’s first impression of being diagnosed with the NDM variety of CRE was seeing the hospital staff go into scramble mode and quickly isolate him in a room. Thus the battle was joined. A series of infections, failed treatments, surgeries ensued. The last drugs of choice were not good choices, and he suffered at times as much from drugs like colistin as the recurrent infections. He is not on antibiotics now and has been infection free for about two years.
“They are not entirely sure whether it is 100 percent eradicated from me or if it’s just lying dormant,” he says.
His ongoing trial has engendered a passion for medicine, particularly for infectious diseases.
“It has really inspired me,” he says. “If I have the opportunity and the mind capable of going into medicine it would be a crime not to. Infectious disease is the biggest thing around the work, especially in the Third World, whether it is TB, HIV/AIDS, malaria -- a lot of this is preventable stuff. I feel obligated almost.”
For more on this story see the March issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention