USS ESSEX, At sea - Navy doctors, nurses, and a hospital corpsmen assigned to Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 7 performed critical surgery on a Sailor’s leg aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) Feb. 7.

A Sailor endured a serious infection in his right leg from rare bacteria called necrotizing fasciitis, also known as “flesh-eating bacteria.”

The infection can be caused by minor trauma, a weak immune system or having cuts in the skin. It can be life threatening if not recognized correctly and can lead to organ failure, shock or tissue damage.

“The patient was in the operating room within an hour after seeing an abscess that looked abnormal,” said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Wisniewski, FST 7 surgeon. “We performed an initial surgery to remove the damaged tissue from the leg.”

Operating out of Okinawa, Japan, FST 7 doctors and corpsmen regularly embark Essex during the ship’s patrols throughout the Western Pacific. Their primary mission is to provide routine and emergency medical care to more than 3,000 Sailors and Marines while under way.

FST 7 provides level-two surgical care for all ships in the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and also regulates movement of patients from ship to ship or ship to shore. They also maintain the ability to provide medical care during the movement process.

During emergencies it is crucial for FST doctors and corpsmen to act quickly and effectively to prevent conditions from worsening, as was the case with the Sailor with necrotizing fasciitis, said Wisniewski.

After the initial surgery, a secondary operation was performed to close the leg wound to reduce the amount of skin grafts the patient will later have to undergo at the nearest hospital in Okinawa.

The FST members spent about three hours suturing the wound. About 80 percent of the wound was closed during surgery, but the skin was unable to stretch any further.

“In surgery, everyone has a key part to play,” said Wisniewski. “We have worked well together in the past and are a well-trained, well-disciplined group. I can’t do this without the team.”

“It is a good feeling knowing that we helped the patient since he was really worried about it,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Lauren Brigandi, FST scrub technician.

The patient is recovering in the ship’s internal care unit and will be flown off the ship to receive skin grafts at a hospital in Okinawa, Japan.

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group includes USS Denver (LPD 9) and USS Germantown (LSD 42) and is participating in Cobra Gold 2011, a U.S.- Thailand co-sponsored multinational exercise designed to improve interoperability between participating nations.