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Saturday, March 18th, 2023

Police chief on way to recovery

By Tom Millhouse
Photo by Tom Millhouse/The Daily Standard

Minster Police Chief David Friend poses with his wife, Sheila. Friend returned home this week after spending nearly two months fighting the effects of flesh-eating bacteria.

MINSTER - Flu-like symptoms and a sore foot quickly morphed into a months-long battle against deadly flesh-eating bacteria for Minster Police Chief David Friend.
Although Friend still has a long road to recovery, he was finally able to return to his home on the shores of Lake Loramie this week after 59 days of hospitalization and rehabilitation.
"It feels great to be back home," Friend said. "I'm very comfortable and I don't have to worry about being woken up every hour."
Friend's struggle began when flu-like symptoms crept up on him while refereeing a wrestling match in Miami County during the first week of January. In addition to his 46 years in law enforcement, Friend has been a wrestling referee and coach for decades.
"The next day, my foot started to hurt," he said.
Friend, 71, continued to work but on the evening of Jan. 12, his foot pain grew so intense he couldn't walk.
A trip to the hospital ended with him receiving a steroid for his pain. He was told the pain was likely stemming from gout or arthritis.
Friend's condition, though, continued to worsen. He experienced confusion and an overall general weakness, his wife, Sheila, recalled.
"Late Saturday night (Jan. 14) or early Sunday I started seeing signs of sepsis," she said. "I had gone through that (sepsis) with my dad."
Shortly after his arrival at Upper Valley Medical Center in Troy, an infectious disease doctor was summoned.
"When I mentioned sepsis, he (the doctor) right away started antibiotics," Sheila said.
Friend's foot had looked normal initially but a few days later it started to discolor.
"It turned purple and red," she said. "(Discoloration) was traveling up his foot to his ankle."
Friend, who said he remembers very little of his hospitalization, was moved to the intensive care unit. A few days later, a culture was taken from his foot.
The sample came back positive for necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria. Neither Friend nor the doctors have any clue as to how he came into contact with the bacteria as he hadn't had any recent scratches, bruises or wounds.
Four incisions were made in Friend's foot to remove the bacteria, which had begun to ravage his body.
"His organs began to fail, his kidneys and liver," Sheila said. "His heart went into a-fib (atrial fibrillation). Luckily, they (doctors and nurses) were right there and he was injected with a drug that got his heart right back into rhythm."
"I knew how serious it was," she continued. "I knew he was very sick."
On Jan. 20, the infectious disease doctor decided that Friend needed to be transferred to Miami Valley Hospital to have his foot amputated, she said.
Fortunately, amputation was averted.
"The surgeons were ready, but they looked at it (the foot) and they said that it was healing nicely," Sheila recalled. "What they needed to do was to get the organs working again."
Friend was placed on dialysis for three-hour treatments to get his kidneys working properly.
"They were just trying to keep him alive, day by day," she said.
Throughout the ordeal, Sheila remained in her husband's room.
"I did not leave the room, I slept in a recliner," she said. "I was afraid to leave him because I thought he might die."
Sheila described the period as a series of upturns and setbacks.
"During a lot of the time at Miami Valley, there wasn't a lot of hope," she said. "It was one of those things where we took two steps forward and three steps back. Something would improve and then something else would go wrong."
Among his complications were a large kidney stone and a hematoma on his psoas muscle. The latter required two procedures to stop the bleeding caused by blood thinners, she said.
In mid-February things began to look brighter as his kidneys and liver functions improved, she said.
"Miraculously, the kidneys started working," Sheila said.
After lying on his back in bed for 36 day, Friend was told he could begin standing again so he could start rehab.
He was transferred to the in-hospital rehabilitation unit at Upper Valley Medical Center.
Friend said he is a goal-driven person, so he was determined to make steady progress in the rehab process.
The goal on his first day was to tread 150 feet with a walker, a challenge that he met.
"That was exciting," he said. "They always say, if you can wrestle, you can do anything."
"It took a lot of hard work and determination, but he can walk now without a walker," his wife added.
Friend said he is ready to do whatever is necessary to resume a normal life.
"The biggest thing is patience," he said. "I'm always on the move. I have patience to do what I'm supposed to do and not overdo it."
Friend's rehabilitation to build strength and stamina will continue now that he is back home.
The couple agreed his dedication to keeping in shape and his good health played a role in his recovering from the flesh-eating bacteria and its life-threatening damage. Friend ran in eight 5K events last summer.
"I'm not a runner but it made me feel like I could accomplish something," he said.
Friend said he's looking forward to returning to work at the police department, noting he had never been hospitalized before nor missed much work.
Looking out on Lake Loramie, Friend said he's also anxious to do some fishing.
Friend expressed his appreciation for his wife's steadfast devotion by staying at his side during the entire health crisis.
"I can't put into words what she's meant to me," he said. "She's been a godsend. She stayed by my side and talked to me. She said 'you're not going anywhere.'"
The couple, who has three children and 10 grandchildren, said they are grateful for the outpouring of support from friends and family.
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"We had so many people praying for us. That was comforting for us," Sheila said. "It helped us get through every day. We had to trust in the Lord."
"As a referee, I knew people all across the state and they were praying for me," Friend said.
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