Jasper native battles flesh-eating disease, loses legs

Photo provided
The son of Bob and Barb Fischer of Velpen and the late Alan Arensman, Brian Arensman now lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Shanon and 7-year-old daughter, Alysa.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

At the end of June, Jasper native Brian Arensman, 43, received news that left him fighting for his life.

Arensman has contracted necrotizing fasciitis, colloquially called flesh-eating disease. The bacterial infection enters the body through a break in the skin and attacks the tissue under the skin that surrounds muscle, fat, nerves and blood vessels.

The rapidly spreading infection often requires surgery to cure and has a mortality rate of 27 percent.

The son of Bob and Barb Fischer of Velpen and the late Alan Arensman, Brian now lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Shanon, 42, and 7-year-old daughter, Alysa.

His diagnosis meant weeks of fighting for his life.

In the surgery that immediately followed the diagnosis, Arensman went into cardiac arrest three times. After that, he spent weeks in the intensive care unit battling septic shock and had to have two amputations — one above the knee on his left leg and one below the knee on his right leg.

“It’s scary,” Shanon said in a phone interview with The Herald earlier this week. “It really is scary. It just changes your whole world.”

Two months after Arensman was diagnosed, doctors still don’t know how he got the disease. The bacteria could have entered even the smallest cut.

What they do know is that the infection attacked a toe first, and Arensman battled the infected toe for a while before intense leg pain led him to the emergency room and the diagnosis in June.

Although Brian is now in a rehab facility and is expected to return home in a few weeks, the days after the diagnosis were grave. Doctors told Shanon to prepare for him to die.

While Brian has been fighting for his health, Shanon has been fighting to keep home life as normal as possible for Alysa. Brian traveled a lot for his job with California-based Field Tech, so not having him at home wasn’t out of the ordinary. But Alysa knew he wasn’t traveling for work, and that was hard on her.

As the family adjusts to the new reality of Brian as a double amputee, that stress hasn’t dissipated much.

“(Alysa) can’t understand why her daddy had to lose his legs,” Shanon said. “She’s just worried if he’s still going to be able to do fun things.”

Shanon does her best to assure Alysa that, yes, Brian will still be able to do fun things. They’ll just be different things now.

Father-daughter activities won’t be the only things changing. When Brian returns home, he’ll have to be in a wheelchair at least temporarily while he finishes therapy and learns to use his prosthetics. That means adjustments to the Arensmans’ home, including widening some door frames. The family also isn’t sure if Brian will be able to return to work.

“It’s just a whole lot to take in,” Shanon said. “Hopefully he gets to come (home) soon. It’ll be hard getting used to it, but eventually it’ll get done.”

Those wishing to help out can donate money on the Arensmans’ Go Fund Me page, www.gofundme.com/brian-arensman, or send cards of encouragement to 203 Iola St., Glenshaw, PA 15116.




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