Cameron Hayward’s flesh eating bacteria


My worst rugby injury was actually not directly related to any one event from a game. My injury occurred in September 2012, while I was playing for the University of Iowa in undergrad. We played a rare Sunday afternoon game against a Division III school from the area. The game went off without a hitch and we won handily. When I got home that evening and showered, I had many small nicks and cuts along my elbows and knees, which is normal.

But, I noticed one small nickel sized red spot on my left arm that looked in much worse shape than any of the others. I didn’t think much of it and assumed I had a small infection in one of the nicks I had gotten during the game.

male rugby player cartoon


Position: Tighthead Prop
Club: University of Iowa
Injury: Flesh Eating Bacteria

It Becomes Curious

I woke up Tuesday morning and noticed the red spot had grown to the size of a quarter. Not wanting anyone to say anything to me about it I wore a long sleeve shirt all day and had the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. When I got home from class that evening I took off my shirt to realize the red spot had grown to roughly the size of a tennis ball and was very hard. I decided this infection was worse than I thought and called to get into Student Health. They were just about to close for that day so I scheduled for the following day.

Overnight the swelling grew to the size of a baseball, and I was glad for the appointment I had made. I showed up to the Student Health Clinic and they examined me and decided it must be an abscess. They lanced and drained it that day, gave me an antibiotic, and told me to check back the following day. The rest of that day the swelling stayed relatively the same.


Thursday morning I awoke to find my lesion had grown to the size of a softball and had become more red. I went back to the Student Health Clinic and they said they wanted me to be referred over to the University Hospital for further inspection. The doctor inspected my arm and, after trying to lance it and drain more pus, they told me they were going to admit me to give me IV antibiotics to kick the infection. I had to wait over an hour for a bed to open up in the hospital and eventually ended up in the pediatric oncology unit at the hospital. I slept in the hospital that night and was visited by a few teammates who had become worried I hadn’t been to practice all week.

Surgery #1

Friday morning my infection seemed slightly worse and when the group of residents came in around six in the morning, they all were acting very odd. They said they were going to get their staff doctor and be right back. The doctor came in and said “You’re going into my first surgery slot in about 45 minutes.” I began to panic, and I called my parents and my girlfriend and told them and was walked down to the operating room.

They operated on Friday morning, 5 days after the game. They debrided the infected tissue, taking skin and subcutaneous fat. The doctors told my parents it was a good thing that I was active because my muscles were able to fight off the infection and that if I had waited a few more days they likely would have had to amputate my entire arm. After the surgery, I was kept in the hospital for a week to make sure the infection did not return.

Surgery #2

My second surgery happened on the following Friday, 12 days after the game, and was a skin graft procedure. They took skin from my thigh and attached it to the exposed area. I was kept in the hospital for a few days to make sure the skin graft took well and was released. Turns out, the infection I had became a form of necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. I spent the next few weeks improving the range of motion and pliability of my new skin and was slowly allowed to slowly add activity back to my routine.

The Lesson

Like I said, my injury was not directly related to a single play or moment in a rugby game but was the result of playing rugby. All of my teammates were amazing while I was in the hospital. They came to visit and even brought me some food because the hospital food wasn’t all that great or filling. I firmly believe without the support of my family and my teammates, I would not have had the strength to get through all of the surgery and difficulties.

Returning To Rugby

I had to take some time away from rugby while my skin graft took hold and healed, but I was able to return in the spring for my final season with the University of Iowa, even scoring 4 tries in one of my final games. I went on to continue playing rugby at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, IA where I started over 50 games.

By Cameron Hayward

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