Lee’s Summit police detective continues recovery from flesh-eating bacterial infection that nearly took his life

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The T-shirt tells you he's Superman. Josh Ward has fought a most menacing enemy. The Lee's Summit police detective is still fighting.

"I think I've come such a long way," said Ward.

He's come a long way since April when he was near death in Saint Luke's Hospital.

"I pleaded with God just to save him, so it was scary. It was very scary," said his wife, Melissa Ward.

She had never heard the words "necrotizing fasciitis" before. Bacteria was eating skin and even muscle across Ward's chest and down one side of his body. Surgeons fought it daily.

"All the tissues that were infected or had died, we had to get off his body in order to save him," said Dr. Scott Sagraves, the medical director of trauma and surgical critical care.

His heart, lungs and kidneys were shutting down. Fingers turned black.

"The medication pulled all the blood to my center organs so they wouldn't shut down. That's what they had to do, and as a result of that, my extremities started to die," said Ward.

Parts of some fingers, including a thumb, had to be amputated. He lost parts of nine toes, too. All of the skin lost on his torso had to be replaced with grafts from his legs. He had 25 surgeries in all.

"I've seen a lot of patients with this type of illness and infection just give up, and we never saw that in Josh," said Dr. Sagraves.

In July, three months after the nightmare began, Ward walked out of the hospital. Now, he's running. He still comes to therapy several days a week. He's learning to move without the ends of this toes and learning to use his hands.

"Everything has healed so nicely and to be honest, I'm so used to it now that I really don't even think about it sometimes," he said.

Physical therapist Heidi Gustafson was with Ward back when it took four people to help him sit up.

"He taught me never to give up. He taught me that you can have a kinda grim prognosis, but you never know where you can come and what miracles can happen," Gustafson said.

In late summer, Ward overcame two more infections in skin grafts. What's kept him going?

"My incredible wife, Melissa. She meant the world to me. Just the thought of her being sad just tore me up. The thought of my kids being without a dad just hurt me," he said.

There's Henry, who turned one while his dad was in the hospital, and twins Lillian and Claire.

He's grateful to all the people in Lee's Summit who've cared about their police detective and showed it in many ways including fundraisers. Eighty thousand dollars was raised so Ward could focus on recovery, not bills.

"I can never repay them enough. Everyone," he said.

The detective hopes to return to work next spring. One mystery is unsolved. No one knows how the strep bacteria that nearly killed him got into his body.

"Knowing he's with us, that's all I need," said his wife.

Her Superman is alive and home.