EDMOND — Thomas Wickliff watched in horror as doctors cut off parts of his son for more than a month.
A leg. Part of his arm. The other leg. Eventually, doctors had nothing left to amputate, and Wickliff had to tell his son he was going to die.
Spc. James T. Wickliffchacin died Sept. 20 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio after being injured Aug. 12 in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan.
Wickliff said the injuries from the bombing were survivable, but his son contracted a fungal infection that spread voraciously.
“He came in from Afghanistan with the wounds, but it wasn't enough to kill him,” Wickliff said. “The problem is, he came in with a fungus, and the doctor's didn't have anything to fight the fungus.”
Wickliff said he promised his son he was going to be OK when he first arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center, because doctors expected he would recover.
But the infection wouldn't stop.
“I saw my son, day by day, lose something from his body. They started with the left leg. After that, they started to take off the tissue from his left arm.”
Later they amputated his right leg below the knee, then they took the rest of it. They next removed the left side of his pelvis.
When the infection continued to spread, doctors had no more options. Wickliffchacin had also contracted pneumonia, and doctors said he could not handle any more surgeries.
“I had to tell my son he wasn't going to make it, that there was nothing they could do,” Wickliff said.
Fungal infections among wounded military members are on the rise, according to medical experts. U.S. Medicine — a monthly professional publication for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense and U.S. Public Health Service — reported on the issue last year.
According to the article, doctors found bomb attacks caused contamination of wounds leading to fungal infections in 3.5 percent of cases in 2010, with at least three deaths. In 80 percent of fungal infection cases, the wounded soldier had a leg amputated. Nearly all cases required large blood transfusions.
Wickliff is a U.S. citizen who raised his family in Venezuela. Wickliffchacin was born in Venezuela but was an American citizen. The family moved to Oklahoma seven years ago to escape the rule of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Wickliff said his son was smart. He was on pace to graduate from high school early in Venezuela, but was set back when the family moved to the U.S. because he did not speak English well. He graduated at 18 from Edmond Santa Fe High School.
“He had a good future,” Wickliff said. “He had all the scores to go to whatever college he wanted.”
But Wickliffchacin wanted to join the Army. Friends said he was proud of his service even before he graduated from high school.
Wickliff said he is writing letters to the state's congressional delegation to alert them to the fungal infection problem, hoping it gets more attention and more funding can be put toward new treatments.
“For my son, it's too late,” he said. “But I want to do something. We have to save these soldiers.”