A year after losing his lower legs, both his hands and nose, Greg Manteufel is walking without a walker and dreams of driving and fishing again.
He survived what doctors told him was a rare case of infection from Capnocytophaga canimorsus -- bacteria that are common in dogs, but can be fatal to humans. The infection turned into sepsis that threatened his life, he said, and doctors decided to amputate.
After a trying year, Manteufel feels hopeful.
“There are a lot of generous people,” the 49-year-old from West Bend, Wisconsin, told TODAY. “It is pretty bad what happened to me, but it is nice to know there are good people in the world. I would take the shirt off my back for someone and maybe it is coming back to me. It makes me feel good.”
It felt like the flu.
Manteufel described the harrowing story of what happened to him.
One day last June, he felt run down like he had the flu, so he went to bed. He said he woke several times and vomited. When his son, Michael, 26, tried talking to him, Manteufel responded with gibberish. Concerned, Michael took his dad to the nearest hospital.
When he arrived, Manteufel glanced at his reflection and wondered what had happened.
“My face was blue and red and purple and I looked totally bruised,” he said. “It was the sepsis.”
He said doctors weren’t sure what was causing sepsis, a sometimes deadly blood infection. They gave him intravenous antibiotics and hoped to slow its progression. Then the pressure in his legs increased dramatically. Doctors tried relieving it with incisions, but that failed. Soon, the skin on his legs turned black. The skin on his hands and his nose began to turn black, too. The tissue was dying and they had to remove parts of his limbs and nose to preserve what they could.
“It was mummified,” he said. “It was pretty rough. I was awake and coherent for most of everything.”
Because his whole nose had turned black, doctors initially thought they'd have to remove it entirely. But they found that only the bottom was damaged, so they were able to preserve part -- and Manteufel said he has since undergone five reconstructive surgeries. With a few more procedures, he was told, it will appear like his normal nose.
“After three years, you won’t be able to tell," he said. "I’m just waiting now to have the healing happen to go back for the surgery."
While Manteufel hopes to look more like himself, he also wants to regain his independence. This past year, he spent a lot of time learning how to walk on “stubbies,” short prosthetics that help people build their strength to walk with assistive devices. His therapists think he’s ready for prosthetics with joints.
“It was definitely a lot of hard work. I had 10 weeks of therapy twice a week,” he explained. “It was really tough building up the core strength."
For the past month, he’s been in therapy to use a prosthetic hand on his left side.
“I don’t wear the prosthetic hand every day,” Manteufel said. “It kind of hurts sometimes.”
Overall, though, he said he feels “pretty good.”
“It is just weird not having my hands,” he said. “But I can more around really well now that my limbs are healed up.”
He looks forward to having hands that allow him to cook, drive or fish. Sometimes he watches YouTube videos of other people with limb differences to figure out how to do some things around the house.
“I want to get back to doing normal things that I did before. Right now, I am kind of stuck,” he said. “I got to be more independent and do stuff for myself.”
‘I don’t blame any dog.’
Years ago, Manteufel said his brother Mark had leukemia and he gave him this advice: “You’ve got to keep a positive attitude.”
Now he thinks of constantly and tries to go out of his way to be kind to others.
“Keeping a positive attitude, it seems to keep me in better shape," he said. "Just what he said keeps me wanting to do good and show everyone I am not (lazy) and I can get back to doing what I do in life."
“I am too motivated to be laying around.”
Capnocytophaga canimorsus is extremely rare and most commonly affects people with weakened immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, the CDC only received 12 reports of cases, a spokesperson told NBC News in 2018.
While Capnocytophaga canimorsus normally enters a person’s bloodstream through a dog bite or when a dog licks an open wound, Manteufel said that didn’t happen. The weekend before he became sick, he said he was around a lot of dogs at a pond and he pet them all. He thinks he may have touched his mouth or eye and developed the infection that way. But his experienced hasn’t changed his feelings toward dogs.
“I don’t blame any dog … I don’t want people to be scared of their dogs," he said. "I want them to be aware of it but not scared.”
“The doctor said, 'You could’ve hit the lottery five times in a row before you got this,'" he added. "That’s how rare and weird it is that is happened.”
Manteufel needs further surgeries and custom prosthetic limbs. People who want to help can do so here.