Greg Manteufel thought he had the flu. Seemingly out of nowhere on June 26, his face turned a deep crimson color. His legs swelled up, he felt feverish, and he got diarrhea.
“I need to sleep this off,” he thought as he climbed into his bed in West Bend, Wisconsin, fighting unconsciousness.
By the time his son, Mike, rushed him to the hospital, Manteufel’s skin was the color of a three-day-old bruise, purple tinged with blue, and he was speaking gibberish. As he was rushed into emergency exploratory surgery, Manteufel told doctors to “do whatever you need to do to save my life,” he recalls to MensHealth.com.
“Do whatever you need to do to save my life.”
Within 24 hours, Manteufel’s feet turned black, and surgeons removed his legs below the knee — and, later, above the knee. When his hands turned the same color, they were also amputated. Then, parts of his nose.
For over a week, doctors “didn’t know what was going on,” Manteufel’s wife, Dawn, tells MensHealth.com. “They asked us whether Greg had been around ticks or up in the woods or if he got bit by a spider. But it was ‘no’ to everything.”
When lab work finally came back eight days later, an infectious disease doctor informed them that the symptoms were not flu-related at all, but rather the work of a bacteria called Capnocytophaga canimorsus. The bacteria is found in dogs’ mouths, and it can spread to humans through bites or licks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only in extremely rare cases does the bacteria enter a human’s blood stream and cause a deadly infection like sepsis, but that’s exactly what happened to Manteufel. He had a total of 14 surgeries, including several skin grafts, over the next three-months.
“I’ve been around dogs for my whole life, so it didn’t make sense why I would, all of a sudden, get [infected] now,” the 48-year-old former exterior painter says. He grew up with dogs, including a pet Labrador retriever and a Dobermann pincher, and is now the proud owner of an 8-year-old pit bull named Ellie.
Manteufel refuses to believe the Capnocytophaga canimorsus could have been caused by a “kiss” from Ellie. The pit bull, he insists, is “not a licker.”
“But, even if she [was responsible], it wasn’t [her] fault,” says Manteufel, who didn’t put Ellie down after his amputations. “I let her lick me the first time I saw her after surgery. I have no hard feelings towards dogs, I love them.”
It’s hard to know whether it was actually Ellie who carried the Capnocytophaga. The weekend before Manteufel fell ill, he was at a birthday party, where multiple guests brought pets.
“I must have been in contact with eight or so dogs,” he says. “So, I can’t really pinpoint which one it was.”
Capnocytophaga canimorsus is “commonly found in the mouths of dogs,” Dr. Stephen Cole, a University of Pennsylvania lecturer in veterinary microbiology who did not treat Manteufel, tells MensHealth.com. “But it’s very, very rare for it to [enter the bloodstream and cause sepsis]. We just don’t know what the inciting incident was or why he developed it at this time, it’s an incredibly unfortunate and unlucky circumstance.”
Today, Manteufel uses a motorized wheelchair and is enrolled in therapy at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, where he’s re-learning how to accomplish simple, everyday tasks like eating, showering, and using a phone.
He uses a velcro wristband with a small pocket and band to secure items like toothbrushes and forks. He has a necklace that holds his cellphone and puts a stylus in the band to text.
“I guess you just got to take what you get, you know. It is what it is,” he says. “Stay positive about it no matter what — and don’t let it break you.”
Courtesy Dawn Manteufel
The Manteufels were forced to sell their two-story house in West Bend, since he can’t maneuver his wheelchair up the stairs. They’re staying with his parents until they save up enough for a wheelchair-friendly home.
Manteufel still has a long road ahead of him. He hopes to heal from his many surgeries by next year and buy arm and leg prosthetics. His ultimate goal is to be able to drive a car once again.
“I tried to stay really positive and never look back,” he says.
Unable to return to his job as a painter, he’s raising money on GoFundMe — more than $130,000 to date — to assist with costly medical bills and prosthetics. The donations have left his family feeling “humbled,” and like they’re “not alone going through this,” Dawn says.
Although he no longer has hands to pet Ellie, Manteufel still snuggles with his pit bull, who sits on his lap.
“[I don’t want anyone to] be afraid of their dogs,” he says. “This happened to me, I hope we can spread awareness it doesn’t have to happen to anyone else.”
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