Lisa and Stephen Fraser and children Hannah, 17, and Joshua, 15. Stephen is recovering from the life-threatening melioidosis.
Lisa and Stephen Fraser and children Hannah, 17, and Joshua, 15. Stephen is recovering from the life-threatening melioidosis.

Miner lucky to be alive after battle with little-known disease

A CHARTERS Towers man is lucky to be alive after surviving the potentially fatal disease melioidosis.

Stephen Fraser, 48, is recovering at home after 14 weeks in hospital fighting off the soil-borne disease.

"It was touch and go there, I knew I was in trouble," the miner said.

"If it were not for my wife's support, I don't think I would have made it," he said.

"When I was in intensive care I can't remember much but I can remember the pain and issues associated with the body trying to shut down.

"But what I always remember is Lisa at my bedside. I would have just let go if it were not for her."

Townsville Public Health Unit director Dr Steven Donohue said melioidosis was an uncommon disease caused by a germ found in soil.

"The majority of infections occur when skin abrasions or wounds come into contact with wet soil or water contaminated by the bacteria," Dr Donohue said. "It occurs in some tropical areas of Northern Australia, including North Queensland."

Latest health data shows that in the Townsville Hospital Health Service there were six notifications of melioidosis between January and August this year and five the same time last year.

Data for the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital Health Service and the Cape and the Torres Hospital Health Service, show there were 19 cases between January and August this year, and 42 the previous year.

Mr Fraser, who is sharing his story to shine a light on the disease, said he contracted the disease in April when he was working at Weipa.

"I got bitten by something on the back of my arm so I scratched it with dusty hands, which is how doctors believe I got the disease," the father-of-two said.

"Within about five days I was so sick I went to hospital with flu-like symptoms and sharp pain in my shoulder blade. I ended up in intensive care on ventilation, I lost my reflexes in my throat.

"I ended up with another lesion on the back of my brain stem which is what did all the damage. I lost all movement in my left side, throat, voice box and oesophagus.

"I still can't swallow, the left side of my face is still paralysed.

"It'll be a gradual process to getting back to where I was before I got melioidosis."

Mrs Fraser said the past four months had been "incredibly difficult".

"One day I kissed my husband goodbye before he left for work (in Weipa)," she said.

"The next time I saw him he was in hospital. It was a very worrying time to see his body close down.

"It is a miracle Stephen is home and we are very grateful that he is home.

"We try to be positive about his rehabilitation and focus on what Stephen can do and not on the impact the disease has had on his body."