WRBL

Army investigates care Fort Benning trainee who contracted flesh eating bacteria received

The U.S. Army is investigating the medical treatment received by a Fort Benning soldier after he contracted a flesh-eating bacteria known as necrotizing fasciitis while participating in basic training in February, according to a post spokesman.

In a statement released late Thursday, for the first time, Fort Benning officials acknowledged that the A Streptococcus outbreak in January and February was worse than they previously admitted.

News 3 first reported that there were A Streptococcus infections in January. Then, in March News 3 reported that California National Guard recruit Dez Del Barba of Stockton, Calif., contracted necrotizing fasciitis while at basic training at Fort Benning.

Since Feb. 11, Del Barba has had 17 surgeries and lost his left leg above the knee. He is currently hospitalized at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Fort Benning spokesman Ben Garrett confirmed in responses to questions from News 3 that there were multiple ongoing investigations.

“Our risk manager at Benning Martin Community Hospital has initiated this review and has sent out an official tasker to those involved and those reviewing the care for this official review,” Garrett wrote. “It is important to note that this review is statutorily restricted from being released.  Additionally, the trainees’ command is investigating into whether trainees were prevented from seeking medical care.”

Garrett declined to discuss Del Barba or his condition, citing HIPAA and privacy laws.

“We are unable to provide details about the medical status of our soldiers,” Garrett wrote.

Mark Del Barba, Dez’s father, confirmed Friday morning that an Army investigator met with his son this week in San Antonio.

“An investigating officer from Fort Benning interviewed him,” Mark del Barba said.

On Feb. 21, Fort Benning officials said there had been four cases of A Streptococcus among basic training soldiers. Similar information was posted to the Fort Benning official Facebook page.

“There have been four cases of complications with serious Strep infections within the basic training population at Fort Benning,” the Facebook post read. “These particular cases should be characterized as a cluster of cases and not as an epidemic.”

In the statement released on Thursday, Garrett said there had been 61 patients who “were symptomatic and tested positive for Group A Streptococcus.”

“After consultation with the TRADOC Surgeon, the Consultant for Infectious Disease for the Army and the U.S. Army Public Health Center, Benning Martin Army Community Hospital initiated enhanced screening for Group A Beta-Hemolytic Streptococcus (GABHS) during February,” Garrett wrote. “From the Initial Entry Training population, 61 patients were symptomatic and tested positive for Group A Streptococcus.”

Fort Benning officials then began providing antibiotics to basic training soldiers, cadre, and civilians on Sand Hill.

“This considerable logistical undertaking of providing antibiotics to a population of nearly 10,000 began less than one week after the invasive Group A Streptococcus was noticed,” Garrett wrote on Thursday. “These efforts quickly controlled the spread of Group A Streptococcus in this population, and there has not been another case of invasive Group A Streptococcal disease diagnosed since.”

On Feb. 21, Fort Benning confirmed a soldier in basic training had died but did not release any information, including name, date, and cause of death. In Garrett’s response to News 3 questions, Garrett provided more information about the deceased soldier.

“Tragically, Fort Benning suffered the untimely death of Pvt. Christopher Wellington Huss on January 22, 2019, and we grieve this loss of life together with his family and the soldiers who knew him,” Garrett wrote. “The cause of this soldier’s death is HIPAA-protected as protections continue after death and require release authorization from the soldier’s personal representative.”

According to his obituary, Huss was 22 years old from Jacksonville, Fla.

Del Barba’s basic training class graduated two weeks ago, while Dez has been hospitalized since Feb. 11 when he was rushed from Benning Martin Community Hospital to the Piedmont Columbus Regional Midtown campus.

Del Barba has obtained his medical records from while he was at Fort Benning. His father contends that his son is in his current condition because of lack of medical attention at Fort Benning. Del Barba gave is father consent to speak to News 3 about the medical records, Mark Del Barba said.

Dez Del Barba first sought medical attention on Feb. 7, according to his father. He was tested for strep and that test came back positive at 12:26 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, his father said. Del Barba sought medical attention again on Sunday, Feb. 10. 

The positive strep test was noted in his medical files at the time he sought treatment on Feb. 10, his father claims. The next day, Del Barba was hospitalized.

“All they had to do was look at his lab results,” said Del Barba’s father, Mark Del Barba. “It was hand-written in is medical records: ‘Positive for culture. Call AM Monday.’”

Since the original report on News 3, Del Barba’s plight has been picked up by national news outlets and the Army Times. The family has documented Dez’s journey on a Facebook page.

“Dez and his family really want his story to be told and hopefully it will change the way soldiers are treated,” a post on Tuesday read. “We pray nothing like this ever happens to another military member again.”