It started out as a routine bike ride for 32-year-old Braden Leonard, but the veteran firefighter and outdoor enthusiast from Newport, Rhode Island, took a spill and pricked his hand on a thorn. Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
Leonard told INSIDE EDITION, "It was tender to the touch. It was more painful than it should have been and it started to swell up."
Within 24 hours Leonard's right hand had swelled to twice its size. His girlfriend, Katie Moorhead, was worried.
"I started to see a little red line forming from the puncture point up his arm," said Moorhead. "I didn't know what that was but I knew it wasn't good, and I said we have got to go to the hospital."
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Caleb Campbell explained Leonard's condition.
"You can see the X-ray behind me," Dr. Campbell told INSIDE EDITION as he pointed to the X-ray. "They look relatively innocuous. There's no fractures. There's nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that his hand looks extremely swollen."
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But blood tests showed the simple thorn prick had developed into something much more serious. Leonard had been infected with a potentially deadly flesh-eating bacteria, and he was faced with a life-changing decision.
"I remember Dr. Campbell coming in and telling me that he might have to amputate my hand," explained Leonard.
It came down to life or death. Leonard's hand had to be amputated to stop the infection from spreading.
"It was that or I would have most certainly died," said Leonard.
It remains a mystery how Leonard got infected, but his doctor has a few safety tips.
"If you have open wounds, don't go near any unclean water source," said Dr. Campbell.
Another tip: Be careful during outdoor activties.
Dr. Campbell added, "Keep your hands and your feet cleaned. Check yourself for any wounds and any punctures, and that you are aware they are there and so you can quickly notice any changes, any redness, swelling, significant pain."
As for Leonard, he now uses a hook and refuses to let anything slow him down.
"I still have two good legs so snowboarding shouldn't be a problem," said Leonard. "It hasn't been the end of the world. I've been able to do more than I thought with one hand."