Flesh-eating infection claims N.W.T. man's leg after he was removed from hospital

James Kochon's family worry that things could have been much worse had he not returned to the hospital.  (James Kochon/Facebook  - image credit)
James Kochon's family worry that things could have been much worse had he not returned to the hospital. (James Kochon/Facebook - image credit)

According to his family, James Kochon went to the Stanton Territorial Hospital emergency room in Yellowknife on Tuesday last week complaining about leg pain.

Though it's unclear what his diagnosis was at the time, he was told he could go home.

He refused to leave.

A photograph circulating online shows the 47-year-old lying in the Stanton emergency room in the fetal position.

CBC attempted to reach the person who took the photo but did not receive a response.

Yellowknife RCMP told CBC News they responded last Tuesday to a call about a man refusing to leave the hospital and being verbally aggressive with staff. Spokesperson Matt Halstead said the man was removed by security, and police later found him near the hospital and checked in with him.

Kochon's sister Trudy — who works as a nurse in Colville Lake, N.W.T., — said he remained in severe pain for four days, and reluctantly decided to return to the hospital where he received the diagnosis.

Family members say doctors have told them he had a flesh-eating bacterial infection, and would need to have his leg amputated.

"I was devastated," she said, "We are all human, that's how they treat native people?"

She said to her, it's another example of Indigenous people facing sub-standard health care.

CBC News reached out to N.W.T. Health and Social Services but was told it couldn't comment on specific patient cases and that Kochon's family could file a complaint if they wished.

'He didn't want to go back there'

Kochon's brother Charles said things could have been much worse had he not returned to the hospital.

"He told me he didn't want to go back there," he said, "He was calling me and my sisters looking for painkillers because his leg was so bad."

Family members say it's not clear how he was treated in the emergency room on his first visit, but they don't believe he had an X-ray.

It remains unclear how Kochon acquired the infection, but it persisted even after his amputation.

Charles said he underwent a second surgery this Tuesday to try and clear up the infection, which had reportedly spread to his heart.

James Kochon continues to battle a flesh-eating bacterial infection.
James Kochon continues to battle a flesh-eating bacterial infection.

Even after his leg was amputated, James Kochon's family says he continues to battle a flesh-eating bacterial infection. (Submitted by Trudy Kochon)

"We don't know how things are going to turn out right now," he said, "They told us it could get worse or better, but the medication they gave him is working."

Trudy Kochon said he was living with a friend when he first went to the hospital and that that person is now being treated with antibiotics for potential exposure.

She also said she and other acquaintances of her brother are troubled by the treatment he received at Stanton.

"I was shocked," she said.

Discrimination against Indigenous people in the health-care system has been a long-standing issue discussed by politicians and advocates in the territory and there have been multiple cases of people alleging mistreatment over the past several years.

Charles Kochon said he's concerned for his brother's ability to make a living after the amputation.

James Kochon, though unemployed at the time of the amputation, had previously worked for RTL Construction in Yellowknife.

"I don't think you could get much work with that, you know, type of injury," he said.

James Kochon remains in the hospital.

Symptoms often difficult to diagnose

Anna Banerji is an infectious disease specialist with the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine. She said flesh-eating disease can "spread rapidly and be very destructive."

"Within hours it can spread, and you can lose a limb or even die from it," she said.

Banerji said the symptoms often don't reflect the pain the patient may be feeling, making it difficult to diagnose.

The infected area may not appear swollen or irritated, but even the lightest touch can cause excruciating pain due to the inflamed muscles and tissues beneath.

She said she's surprised Kochon was able to last four days if he was carrying the infection at his first visit.

Banerji said it's not that common people get a secondary infection, but it can often enter the body through cuts, abrasions, and even from coughing.

"When it does happen, it's quite dramatic," she said.