Australian Gym buff had arm amputated after a botched bicep curl caused deadly flesh-eating bug


An amateur bodybuilder was forced to have his arm amputated after a bicep curl went horribly wrong, leading to a deadly flesh-eating virus.

Gabriel McKenna-Lieschke tore his right bicep ‘clean off’ the bone while trying to curl a 50kg (110lb) dumbbell during a gym session in November 2020.

The 29-year-old from Adelaide, Australia, ‘screamed’ in agony as he felt the tendon that connects the muscle to his elbow snap.

An operation to reattach his bicep was a success, but he claims he was was not given any antibiotics to.

The civil engineering student said over the next three days his arm went bright red and swelled up to ‘two or three times the thickness’.

The skin on his arm began to rot and spread to his shoulder and chest. 

He was rushed back to hospital, where doctors discovered he was suffering necrotising fasciitis — a bacterial infection that kills surrounding tissue.

Mr McKenna-Lieschke was put in an induced coma and had to have 11 operations in 10 days. 

Doctors were forced to amputate the arm under the shoulder to stop the infection spreading and perform several skin grafts.

Aussie Gabriel McKenna-Lieschke (pictured this year) tore his right bicep ‘clean off’ will trying to curl a 50kg (110lb) dumbbell — the weight of a small pig — during a gym session in 2020. Here, he’s pictured doing deadlifts after his ordeal

After surgery to repair his bicep, he developed necrotising fasciitis, a bacterial infection that kills surrounding tissue. McKenna-Lieschke was rushed back to hospital, where doctors were forced to amputate the arm under the shoulder to stop the infection spreading

After surgery to repair his bicep, he developed necrotising fasciitis, a bacterial infection that kills surrounding tissue. McKenna-Lieschke was rushed back to hospital, where doctors were forced to amputate the arm under the shoulder to stop the infection spreading

Now, he is still learning to live without his dominant arm but has started track-cycling, with the aim of competing in the 2024 Paralympics in Paris, France

Now, he is still learning to live without his dominant arm but has started track-cycling, with the aim of competing in the 2024 Paralympics in Paris, France

His arm went bright red and swelled up to 'two or three times the thickness' after three days. Pictured: Mr McKenna-Lieschke's after the amputation and doctors removed the dead skin on his chest and arm

His arm went bright red and swelled up to ‘two or three times the thickness’ after three days. Pictured: Mr McKenna-Lieschke’s after the amputation and doctors removed the dead skin on his chest and arm

What is necrotising fasciitis? 

Necrotising fasciitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects the tissue beneath the skin and surrounding muscles and organs (fascia).

It can start from a relatively minor injury, such as a small cut.

It’s sometimes called the “flesh-eating disease”, although the bacteria that cause it do not “eat” flesh, but release toxins that damage nearby tissue.

Necrotising fasciitis can be caused by several different types of bacteria.

The bacteria lives in the gut, throat and, in some people, on the skin, where they do not usually cause any serious problems.

In rare cases, the bacteria can cause necrotising fasciitis if they get into deep tissue, either through the bloodstream or an injury or wound, such as:

  • cuts and scratches
  • insect bites
  • puncture wounds caused by injecting drugs
  • surgical wounds

It’s estimated to affect fewer than 500 Britons per year and little over 1,000 Americans.

The infection can develop very quickly and be life-threatening.

Symptoms can include a painful cut or scratch, intense pain out of proportion to the damage on the skin, high temperature, flu-like symptoms, swelling and redness, diarrhoea and vomitting and dark blotches that become fluid-filled blisters.

Treatment includes surgery, sometimes including amputation, and antibiotics

It is estimated that one or two in every five cases are fatal.

Now, he is still learning to live without his dominant arm but has started track-cycling, with the aim of competing in the 2024 Paralympics in Paris, France. 

Recalling his original injury, Mr McKenna-Lieschke said: ‘I was training flat out, I was bicep-curling 50 kilos.

‘I tore my right bicep clean off the elbow doing a bicep curl in the gym.

‘I basically jumped in the car, drove about 50 metres screaming in pain. I called a friend to come pick me up.

‘We called the hospital and they told me having a bicep attached was an elective surgery. Two days later, I got a surgeon.’

He said he was not given any antibiotics after the surgery and thinks the infection happened in the hospital.

Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed after bicep tendon tear surgery but it is up to doctors to assess the risk of infection.

In the days after his surgery he developed necrotising fasciitis, which has been dubbed the flesh-eating bug.

Although the bacteria that cause the disease do not ‘eat’ flesh, they release toxins that damage nearby tissue. 

Necrotising fasciitis can be caused by several different types of bacteria.

The bacteria lives in the gut, throat and, in some people, on the skin, where they do not usually cause any serious problems.

The condition is estimated to affect fewer than 500 Britons per year and little over 1,000 Americans.

After being taken to hospital a second time, Mr McKenna-Lieschke was put in a coma and operated on.

When he woke up heavily sedated a member of medical staff told him they had to ‘remove’ some sections of his arm.

He did not realise his arm had been amputated for three days. 

He said: ‘I wasn’t making any sense, I was put into an induced coma for 10 days.

‘The main infection started attacking my lower arm before where my bicep was.

‘The first amputation was below the elbow.

‘They then went above the elbow and had to debride [remove] the dead skin on my chest and my arm.

‘I was asleep for the whole thing. I had no idea what was going on and when I woke up, I didn’t even realised I’d lost my arm for three days.

‘When I looked in the mirror, I was like ‘oh s**t’. Unfortunately, I was on so many drugs it was like it hit me in the face. 

‘But at the same time, I wasn’t able to comprehend it properly because I was in such a haze.’

After undergoing skin graft surgery to try and reconstruct parts of his upper body on New Year’s Eve in 2020, Mr McKenna-Lieschke struggled to maintain his balance and worked hard in rehabilitation to develop more movement in his remaining limb.

Mr McKenna-Lieschke was dedicated to maintaining a positive mindset and vowed to see the journey as the ‘ultimate challenge’.

He said: ‘After that, my residual limb didn’t have any range of motion whatsoever. I was super off balance.

‘I worked really hard in rehab to gain that range of motion back. Breaking through all that scar tissue was a really painful process but I worked really hard at it.

‘They let me out on day release about a month or two before they intended to because I was a bit of a nuisance.

After undergoing skin graft surgery to try and reconstruct parts of his upper body on New Year's Eve, Mr McKenna-Lieschke struggled to maintain his balance and worked hard in rehabilitation to develop more movement in his remaining limb

After undergoing skin graft surgery to try and reconstruct parts of his upper body on New Year’s Eve, Mr McKenna-Lieschke struggled to maintain his balance and worked hard in rehabilitation to develop more movement in his remaining limb

‘I wasn’t taking any painkillers and I was refusing everything because I just wanted to go home.

‘I’ve had a fairly long history of bad mental health. I got on top of it a year prior to losing my arm.’

He added: ‘I was really in a good spot and I was really happy, I knew how hard it was to get back from nothing.

‘I’m glad I was in a position where I could tackle it head on because for me it was either “it’s time to get on with it, get on with your life”.

‘My first thought was it was going to send me back into a hole of depression, but I thought ‘this is the ultimate challenge’. 

‘I relished it as a challenge of self-improvement. To see that amazing progress from hard work is incredibly motivating.’

Looking back on his odeal, Mr McKenna-Lieschke said: ‘I feel very proud of myself.

‘I feel extremely grateful more than anything that I have another chance at life, have the support of my family and friends and that I’m from a country where I’m able to pursue a dream like going to the Paralympics.’

Now Mr McKenna-Lieschke is more determined than ever to get to peak fitness and enter the Paris Paralympics in two years’ time — hoping to race in the cycling team with the help of specialist prosthetics.

Mr McKenna-Lieschke said: ‘I’m aiming to enter the Paris Paralympics in 2024.

‘When I woke up, neither bodybuilding and boxing seemed like they were my sports anymore with one arm, so I decided to reframe my life so I had a passion again. That’s really important.

‘I don’t know what made me think of it but I said ‘I want to try track cycling’. I’d never been a cyclist before in my life.

‘It was amazing for me to realise there was a life ahead of me. It was a bit hard to get into and I had a few makeshift attachments so I could square myself up on the back with no real control.’

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