High school wrestler hospitalized with severe skin infection

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

MESA, Ariz. -- A Valley wrestler is recovering at a hospital after being diagnosed with a bacterial infection commonly known as the "flesh-eating disease," according to his family.

"It's a one in a million chance that you get it, and it's a fluke of bad luck if you do," Dalis Smith said from his hospital bed.

Smith, a junior at Basha High School, said he developed a severely swollen foot and other symptoms just hours after placing sixth at the state wrestling tournament last weekend.

"I woke up at like 3 in the morning. I couldn't feel my foot. It was swollen to the size of a potato," Smith recalled. "It was really painful. I wouldn't wish it upon anyone."

The same wrestling tournament was postponed earlier this month due to a skin infection scare, after the Arizona Interscholastic Associated received reports from at least 15 Valley wrestlers.

"It comes with the territory," Smith said.

However, the AIA significantly stepped up health and safety precautions when the tournament resumed.

"The AIA took a lot of precautions this year at the state tournament; very detailed skin checks, mats sanitized between rounds," said Michael Garcia, wrestling coach at Basha High School. "It was a very sterile environment."

He said he witnessed tournament staff do culture checks on the mats.

While Smith's family is not 100 percent sure where or how the teen contracted his infection, they were relieved to receive a diagnosis Friday.

Smith's mother, Kim Ayers, said doctors were initially treating the infection as if it was MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). But biopsies later showed Smith was suffering from necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection that can quickly destroy skin, fat and tissue.

Smith had surgeries Wednesday and Friday to flush out the infection.

He has started physical therapy and may require a skin graft down the road, according to Ayers.

Recovery from the surgeries could take three weeks, and Smith will be on antibiotics for six.

"We wish him the best; we want him to get well," Garcia said. "He was sixth in the state this year, and he wants that state title next year."

Wrestlers take to mats after skin infections postpone tournaments