On May 29, Andrey Suchilin, a 58-year-old Russian guitarist, was on a flight from Spain to the Netherlands when his overwhelming body odour forced the pilot to make an emergency landing in Portugal. Once there, the man was handed over to a medical team.
Although it sounds like an extreme measure, other passengers on the flight were said to be vomiting and even fainting from the smell.
“It was like he hadn’t washed himself for several weeks,” Piet van Haut, a fellow passenger said. “Several passengers got sick and had to puke.”
The following day, Suchilin and his wife Lida posted to Facebook to explain the situation.
“The tragic and comic component of this whole situation is that I caught a disease, which (let’s not say how and why) makes a man quite stinky,” he wrote.
It turned out that Suchilin was suffering from necrosis, a tissue disease that he had caught while on vacation and had been misdiagnosed in Spain as an “ordinary beach infection,” for which he was given antibiotics. In fact, his flesh, fat and muscle cells were dying off from the infection.
He succumbed to it on June 25.
In the Facebook post, his wife said that their health insurance had lapsed and they didn’t have enough money to cover the costs of treatment. After friends chipped in, he was able to undergo multiple surgeries, but the necrosis had spread to critical organs including the kidneys, heart and lungs. He slipped into a coma before dying of organ failure earlier this week.
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What is necrosis?
Experts explain necrosis as an unnatural cell death. Unlike when a cell lives out its life and dies, which is called apoptosis, necrosis takes place when something unexpected happens and the cell dies early because it is no longer receiving ample blood and oxygen flow. Because those cells don’t send a signal to the nearby phagocytes (which clean up cell debris), the immune system doesn’t know how to locate and recycle them.
In the event that the dead cells release chemicals, they can travel to nearby cells and gangrene can set in.
What causes necrosis?
Conditions that cause necrosis include frostbite, where the tissues are severely damaged by cold and the frostbitten areas turn black and die. Deep vein thrombosis, when a blood clot forms in the blood vessels and blocks the flow as well as oxygen, can also lead to necrosis.
Injuries and infection resulting from lack of proper care to the wound site, cancer, toxins and inflammation can also be precursors to necrosis.
Treatment includes identifying the cause and removing the dead tissue. In severe cases, a patient may have to undergo amputation of the limbs or organs affected. Non-surgical treatments include antibiotics, immunosuppressive therapy and maggot therapy.
Transavia airlines, the company that originally removed Suchilin from their flight due to his smell, expressed their condolences on his passing.
In a statement to Newsweek, the airline company said that they “sympathize with the family members and wish them a lot of strength in processing their loss,” and assured fellow passengers that there “has been no risk of infection.”
Suchilin was a founding member of the Moscow Rock Laboratory, which the New York Times described as “an officially sanctioned club that promotes musicians who do not belong to state concert organizations.” He was credited with bringing rock music to Russia in the 1980s.