Oregon plague victim loses fingers and toes

Oregon plague victim loses fingers and toes
This photo supplied by the Gaylord family taken July 6, 2012, at a hospital in Bend, Ore., shows Paul Gaylord as he recovers from the plague. (AP Photo/The Gaylord Family, ho)
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon man who nearly died from the plague in June has now lost his withered fingers and toes to the disease known as the Black Death.

Doctors amputated the blackened extremities of Paul "Steve" Gaylord in an operation that lasted 2 1/2 hours Monday at the St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.

The 60-year-old Prineville man told The Oregonian the surgery was a success but painful.

Surgeons removed his fingers to his palms, leaving half of his left thumb and less of his right one. They also cut off his toes and the top part of his right foot.

"I'm very happy to be alive," Gaylord said. "I can't change it. I want to get out of pain and be able to walk again and do things for myself."

Gaylord was infected in June when he tried to remove a mouse from the throat of a choking cat. The plague-stricken cat bit him and a family friend. The friend was treated with antibiotics and never developed severe symptoms.

Gaylord spent nearly a month on life support as his family braced for his death. The former welder faces months of physical therapy to learn how to use his feet. He'll also need prosthetics for his hands.

"I don't think he'll be splitting his own wood," said his niece, Andrea Gibb. "He'll have limitations, but at the same time he'll be able to function."

Besides the physical pain of recovery, he has to surmount the fear of people who mistakenly think he's contagious.

"A lot of people are really leery," Gibb said. "They're not well-educated. It freaks a lot of people out."

His family is trying to raise money and collect supplies to build him a new house because the trailer in which he had been living was dilapidated and unsafe. The family has collected $16,000 so far.