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Video: Chef survives deadly flesh-eating infection 

  1. Transcript of: Chef survives deadly flesh-eating infection 

    MATT LAUER, co-host: We're back at 8:10 right now. This morning on TODAY'S HEALTH , a chef's brush with death after being stricken with flesh-eating bacteria. It's both an amazing story of survival and a cautionary tale. And we'll talk to him in a moment, but first, here's NBC 's chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman .

    Mr. MATT MURPHY (Suffered From a Flesh-Eating Bacterial Infection): What about the grits? We got grits rocking?

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: It was a day like any other. New Orleans chef Matt Murphy was taking care of his daughters before heading off to work.

    Mr. MURPHY: Always want to go forward in this thing. You try and reverse it's like backing up an 18-wheeler. Doesn't work that well.

    SNYDERMAN: While walking down the stairs this robust rugby player and healthy man tripped over one of the girls' toys and banged his knee.

    Mr. MURPHY: Just got up like normal, continued on and then the rest unfolded over the day. Knee starting paining, getting stiff.

    Ms. ALICIA MURPHY (Matt's Wife): We thought it was just a strange coincidence that he had hurt his knee at the same time he started getting a flu. His leg started swelling up.

    SNYDERMAN: While the ER doctors focused on keeping Matt alive, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frederick Wilson was brought in and diagnosed him with necrotizing fasciitis, an insidiously advancing soft tissue infection caused by Group A streptococci , aka, flesh-eating bacteria.

    Unidentified Reporter #1: A popular New Orleans chef who is now fighting for his life...

    KEN JONES reporting: Matt Murphy is suffering from a massive infection.

    Then a freak accident triggered a battle for his life.

    Unidentified Reporter #2: When he arrived at the emergency room , he was basically on death's doorstep. He was already in organ system failure and was in basically toxic shock. For some reason, that bacteria takes hold and causes the body's immune system and inflammatory system to kind of go haywire.

    Unidentified Doctor: The doctors came to me and they kept saying, `Your husband is a very sick man. You need to call his family and bring his family here.' And that's when I thought, `Oh, my God, he could die?'

    Ms. MURPHY: Doctors put Matt into a medically induced coma to make it easier for his body to heal itself.

    SNYDERMAN: I talked to this doctor and I said, `Listen, that man means everything to me. We have four young children at home, I'm pregnant with his fifth child.' I said, `Do everything you can. Please, please take really good care of that man. He is our life.'

    Ms. MURPHY: Over the next three months, doctors fought to get the infection eating away at Matt Murphy under control. Sixteen operations and three resuscitations later Matt 's condition stabilized. The worst was behind him.

    SNYDERMAN: The bacteria starting attacking here, and for me after the doctors explaining it, I was -- usually they amputate. I think when I woke up I looked at my hands and I said, `I'm not going to lose my hands, this is how I make a living, this is how I'm going to feed my family.'

    Mr. MURPHY: The doctor said, ` Matt , we've had eight people in the last 25 years that have had this. You're the only one who's ever survived.' It's a miracle. I have my wonderful husband who's healthy and here and we're a lucky, happy family .

    Ms. MURPHY: Matt Murphy is here with his wife Alicia and one of their daughters, Alana , and Dr. Nancy Snyderman 's here as well. Good morning, everybody.

    LAUER: Hi, Matt.

    SNYDERMAN: Good morning.

    Mr. MURPHY: Let me talk to you guys in a second. Nancy ...

    LAUER: Yeah.

    SNYDERMAN: ...necrotizing fasciitis, it's very rare. Fifteen hundred cases a year.

    LAUER: A year.

    SNYDERMAN: Was the bacteria already in his body and the injury triggered it?

    LAUER: On his body.


    LAUER: We're colonized with bacteria and strep got into this incidental wound and started to fester, grew very rapidly and then the turning point was it produced this powerful toxin. And that's what attacked the tissue, then attacked his organs and caused him to become so critically ill.

    SNYDERMAN: You beat the odds, man.

    LAUER: He beat the odds.

    SNYDERMAN: I mean, you know, we heard Alicia say...

    LAUER: That's what they tell me.

    Mr. MURPHY: ...the doctors told her that eight people in 25 years...

    LAUER: Yeah.

    Mr. MURPHY: ...they all died except you.

    LAUER: Yeah.

    Mr. MURPHY: What was the -- you know, when this got its worst, what was the pain like? What were you feeling like?

    LAUER: I'm a rugby player , broke my nose seven times, can deal with pain. And I knew this was just going on and on. I thought it was like a sprained knee. I said, `Hey, it's going to go away,' but it didn't. And, I mean, before we went in the ER it was just -- the pain was just incredible. At that point, I said, `This is -- this is more than what it is.'

    Mr. MURPHY: You turned the corner. What kind of rehabilitation did you -- we should mention, you have scars, but that's -- I mean, that's the worst...

    LAUER: I have some skin grafts.

    Mr. MURPHY: ...thing you have basically.

    LAUER: Yeah.

    Mr. MURPHY: What was the rehabilitation like?

    LAUER: It was -- it was -- I mean, first walking up even was tough just to deal with that and get psychologically through it to say, `hey, wow, this happened to me. I had no power over it happening.' But then was the physical side of it, too, which is just learning how to eat, walking. It was tough, but -- and Alicia was pregnant at the time and I had kind of given myself targets, and the doctor, Dr. Wilson , was phenomenal, and he was like, `You're going to walk out of this hospital. I'll walk out of this hospital with you.' And that sort of -- I said, `If he had that determination I could pull from my side, too.'

    Mr. MURPHY: Alicia , you had four -- you had quadruplets who were a year and a half old about when this happened.

    LAUER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MURPHY: Pregnant with another child.

    LAUER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MURPHY: I mean, you have to be sitting there thinking, `This can't be happening to our family.'

    LAUER: Well, you know, we had quadruplets, I -- more than once have I ever had that feeling of this can't be happening to our family. But, you know, I think the most important thing was I had the girls at home and I was pregnant with Alana and I knew that I had to be tough, I had to be strong. And I also knew that Matt is the toughest guy I've ever known and I knew that he'd make it out of it. I was -- I was scared, I'm not going to

    Ms. MURPHY: lie......but...

    You know what I was thinking, you know, tough rugby player , what if he had said...

    LAUER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MURPHY: ...`you know what, I don't need to go to the emergency room , I'm sure this is just a problem. I'll wake up tomorrow, I'll feel better' and tried to tough it out, you probably wouldn't be here.

    LAUER: That's it, yeah.

    Mr. MURPHY: Yeah. it's true, we were close.

    Ms. MURPHY: It was like -- it was like flulike symptoms, and I -- I'm like, you know, I had just come back from a trip so I'm like, `maybe I got the flu and all that.' And -- but quickly enough I went there.

    Mr. MURPHY: Yeah, you were very lucky. Nancy ...

    LAUER: Yes.

    SNYDERMAN: ...because he's had this once, and I hate to even say this in front of him...

    LAUER: Don't worry, I've heard it before.

    Mr. MURPHY: ...because he's had this once, is he more likely to get it again?

    LAUER: No.

    SNYDERMAN: Is there something dormant in his system?

    LAUER: No. I mean, this is a group of strep that is just more toxic than your average strep that you -- that you find. But it is a warning sign that if you start to see a wound, and I'm going to use that, you know, old-fashioned term, festering, beyond what you think is normal, get in. It is rare but it can happen to you. And the loss of soft tissue and muscle and the rehab you saw that he had to go through, it's significant. But nonetheless can happen to anybody. And he's not more at risk than anybody else.

    SNYDERMAN: Yeah. By the way, I'm going to mention the Ritz-Carlton down in New Orleans , they had a fundraiser, you were in the hospital, 45 chefs came, raised a lot of money.

    LAUER: Exactly.

    Mr. MURPHY: And it must have been nice to have that kind of support.

    LAUER: Yeah. It was like...

    Mr. MURPHY: Not only from a great family.

    LAUER: It was like everybody in the city, actually. Just got around from dropping off food to my wife and help feed the kids and mind -- help mind the children. It was just like -- it was just...

    Mr. MURPHY: Cool. It's a great community.

    Ms. MURPHY: ...amazing community feeling...

    Mr. MURPHY: Yeah.

    Ms. MURPHY: ...and, you know, you're a guy, you don't want to ever, you know, `Hey, I'm the breadwinner, I don't want any help.' This is my -- this is the way I am.

    Mr. MURPHY: Right.

    LAUER: But it was very emotional to see so many people doing so much good.

    Mr. MURPHY: Well, we're happy you're doing so well. You're going to come back and cook for us later in the show.


TODAY contributor
updated 5/21/2010 10:25:39 AM ET 2010-05-21T14:25:39

Chef Matt Murphy has the hands of a culinary artist in his kitchen at the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans — but he’s also a rugged man who hasn’t shied from being battered and bloodied  playing his favorite sport, rugby.

So when he felt pain after tripping over one of his daugters’ toys just over a year ago, Murphy’s first instinct was to simply suck it up and move on. Little did he know he was beginning an agonizing medical odyssey that he came through only with first-rate medical care and a lot of luck.

Master chef Murphy had contracted necrotizing fasciitis (NF), more commonly called flesh-eating disease — an ailment that sounds like it comes from a science-fiction thriller but is an extremely rare yet all-too-real threat. It can start with just a minor scrape, but its mortality rate is 90 percent, and even those lucky few who survive often have limbs amputated.

It didn’t go away
But Murphy appeared hale and hearty on TODAY Friday, with all his limbs intact. Accompanied by his wife Alicia and their 8-month-old daughter Alana (the couple left their active bunch of 2½-year-old girl quadruplets back in the Big Easy), he told Matt Lauer that his decision to head to the emergency room was the best he’s ever made.

“I’m a rugby player. I’ve broken my nose seven times; I can deal with pain,” Murphy said in a brogue that reflects his hometown of Dublin, Ireland. “I said, ‘Hey, it’s going to go away,’ but it didn’t. But lucky enough I went [to the hospital].”

Still, Murphy was about ready for his last rites by the time he showed up at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, some two days after tripping. Doctors were unable to find his blood pressure and did all they could to keep him alive. Worse, they didn’t know what was wrong with him.

Murphy’s angel arrived in the form of Dr. Frederic Wilson. An orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, he had encountered that NF before. The disease is so rare, with only 500 to 1,500 cases diagnosed a year, most physicians have never seen it. But Wilson recognized what Murphy was dealing with.

“He was basically on death’s doorstep,” Dr. Wilson told NBC News. “He was already in organ system failure and was in basically toxic shock.”

Matt and Alicia Murphy are the parents of five daughters — four of them quadruplets.

Appearing with the Murphys on TODAY, medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman told Lauer NF results from streptococcus, the bacteria most of us carry around and is the cause of strep throat. But in Murphy’s case, the bacteria manifested itself in an unusual way.

“[He was] colonized with bacteria, and strep got into that incidental wound and started to fester, grow very rapidly. And then the turning point was it produced this powerful toxin,” she explained.

Doctors tried their best while preparing Murphy’s family for the worst.

“The doctors came to me and they kept saying, ‘Your husband is a very sick man, you need to call his family and bring his family home,’ ” Alicia Murphy told NBC News. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, he could die?’

“I said, ‘Listen, this man means everything to me, we have four young children at home, I’m pregnant with his fifth child. Do everything you can; please, please take really good care of him.’ ”

This graphic shows how necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria, quickly spread through Matt Murphy’s skin and tissue.
Murphy was rushed into surgery to cut away the infected tissue and put in a medical coma for six weeks to allow his body time to heal. During those six weeks, Murphy underwent 16 surgeries and needed three medical resuscitations.

Thankfully, Murphy came back whole; doctors found it remarkable that they didn’t have to perform any kind of amputation. In the eight cases of NF the hospital had seen in 25 years, Murphy is the lone survivor.

Alicia Murphy told Lauer she counted on her husband’s toughness to carry him through and come back to their family.

“I had the girls at home and I was pregnant with Alanna, and I knew that I had to be tough,” she said. “I also knew that Matt is the toughest guy I’ve ever known, and I knew he would make it out of it. [But] I was scared; I’m not going to lie.”

Long recovery
Murphy faced an uphill battle even after he was out of the woods. The long coma and myriad surgeries left him weak and frail. He had to regain sense in his extremities and was so stiff he had to learn to use his legs again.

Video: Jambalaya jamboree Murphy told Lauer he set a target date of October to complete his rehabilitation so he could be present at the birth of his fifth daughter. And yes, he made it.

“Dr. Wilson was phenomenal; he said, ‘You’re going to walk out of this hospital, I’ll walk out of this hospital with you,’ ” Murphy said. “I said, if he had that determination, I could pull from my side, too.”

Murphy is a rising chef on the culinary circuit, recently opening M Bistro at the Ritz Carlton. He’s showed off his cooking chops on numerous national TV shows — including TODAY on Friday, where in a second appearance he whipped up a jambalaya that delighted former New Orleans resident Hoda Kotb.

And Murphy is beloved in the Big Easy, as demonstrated recently when some 45 fellow chefs gathered to cook at a fundraiser that raised $250,000 to pay medical bills that weren’t covered by his insurance.

“It’s a miracle,” Alicia Murphy told NBC. “I have my wonderful husband who’s healthy and here, and we’re a lucky, happy family.”

Snyderman told Lauer Murphy is no more at risk of contracting NF again than any of the rest of the population. She added while the disease is extremely rare, its deadly potential is in all of us.

“If you start to see a wound festering beyond what you think is normal, get in [to the hospital],” she advised. “It is rare, but it can happen to you.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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