JUNEAU -- Ruben Pereyra has left the hospital but his battle with the ravages of flesh-eating bacteria is not over.
Pereyra, a Juneau school bus driver who was flown to Seattle in June for treatment of the rare but dangerous disease, spoke to the Juneau Empire for the first time this week.
"I'm feeling a lot better than I did a month ago, a month and a half ago," he said. "It's kind of scary leaving the hospital but I'm excited at the same time."
Pereyra will have to stay near the hospital for 90 days as doctors work to rehabilitate his arm where it was ravaged by the flesh-eating bacteria, also called necrotizing fasciitis. That's the same kind of bacteria that can cause strep throat.
The disease is caused when bacteria enter the body through a cut or scrape. Pereyra said he cut a knuckle on a bookshelf and was hospitalized a few days later. Bartlett Regional Hospital sent him to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.
His extensively damaged left hand and arm have been repaired with skin grafts but the rehabilitation process may be extensive, he said.
"He's got a good outcome in the sense that he still has his arm," said Ana Pereyra, his wife.
He may still lose three fingers that have been heavily damaged by the loss of skin, muscle and tendon but he's holding out hope that his thumb and index finger, which are in better shape, can be saved.
"I can move them, I can barely pinch and hold something but that's all I can do. I can't rotate my wrist," he said," he said. Saving the fingers is looking less promising but might still be possible, he said.
The Pereyras say they've gotten some much-needed help from both Harborview and friends and family in Juneau and elsewhere.
The hospital has helped them out with interim housing.
"Harborview has really gone beyond and helped us out," Ana Pereyra said.
Pereyra first came to Juneau to work 12 years ago and moved here full-time in 2006, he said.
They once had Latino's Restaurant and Universe Electronics on South Franklin Street but those businesses struggled. The electronics store had to file for bankruptcy and someone else is now operating Latinos.
They also once owned the old Elks building there but were forced to sell that as well.
"We had to sell it, get out of it or we would lose it this winter," she said.
He said he took the job as a school bus driver to be able to stay in Juneau.
"I was in the process of trying to make my life in Juneau, but not as a business person but as a regular person who goes in and clocks in and clocks out," he said.
Pereyra said his mission for the next three months will be to rehabilitate his arm, where his grafts appear to be doing well but need regular attention. And he has to wear a splint on his damaged hand and arm during the day and then a bigger one at night to keep it as straight as possible.
All they hope for is the best.
"If I'm lucky, it's going to be what they call a stiff hand or a dead hand," he said. "The only thing they're really trying to salvage out of my hand is my index finger and my thumb. It's going to be a long process."
By PAT FORGEY