A professional dancer from Florida has lost both his legs and narrowly escaped death after contracting a severe case of meningitis.
Rafael Castellano, 32, spent nearly three months in the hospital, where doctors had placed him in a medically induced coma as they fought to save his life.
After emerging from the coma, Castellano said he did not remember what had happened to him.
“Every three days, I’d ask the same question, the same thing, asking what happened, and it took time to understand what was going on,” Castellano told News 6 after his recent discharge from the hospital.
Castellano’s harrowing ordeal began on June 1, when the dance instructor was taken to AdventHealth Hospital in Orlando, where he was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis — a disease he said he knew little about before contracting it, reported the station WESH2.
Meningococcal meningitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection spread by close contact with an infected person’s saliva, which causes the lining of the brain and spinal cord to swell, often resulting in death.
Symptoms of the life-threatening illness include fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting and sensitivity to light, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Castellano said that as he was clinging to life, his family was told to prepare for the worst outcome.
“This bacteria that’s in your body (is) to the point where your body becomes like a poison to itself,” Castellano said.
Castellano underwent eight surgeries during the summer and had both his legs amputated below the knee.
But he said he is grateful to be alive — and is determined to walk and dance again with the help of prosthetics.
“I feel like this is a miracle, that’s the only way to explain it,” he said. “And now I have the drive to keep fighting and showing everybody what I’m capable of.”
Castellano was released from the hospital in late August and has been accepted into an inpatient physical therapy facility to begin his long recovery.
While waiting for his wounds from the surgeries to heal, Castellano has been sharing his story to raise awareness of the rare infection that nearly ended his life — and the vaccine that has been developed to protect the public from it.
“If I would have known about it prior to all of it, maybe my story would be completely different. It’s not that I’m regretting things. It’s more like the awareness,” Castellano said.
The dancer does not have health insurance and has been raising money to help cover his growing medical expenses through a GoFundMe campaign, which so far has drawn more than $56,000.