Courtesy Dawn Zwicker-Manteufel
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August 10, 2018 10:47 AM

Greg Manteufel is keeping a positive attitude despite nearly losing his life when he contracted a rare blood infection from a dog lick in June, which led to the amputation of parts of his limbs just days later.

Since coming down with flu-like symptoms, Manteufel, a painter from West Bend, Wisconsin, has undergone seven surgeries — and there are more on the horizon.

“It felt like a fever and when I tried to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, my feet were just out of it,” Manteufel, 48, tells PEOPLE of June 26. “I had no power to get myself to the bathroom.”

As Manteufel’s family rushed him to a local hospital, his face began to turn black and blue. Doctors at the hospital evaluated Manteufel and transferred him to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, where he was treated for a blood infection caused by capnocytophaga, a bacteria found in the mouths of many dogs and cats, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

While the bacteria doesn’t make animals ill, if it’s spread to humans through saliva — which is extremely rare, the CDC notes — it can cause fevers, diarrhea, headaches and vomiting. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the infection can also lead to “severe sepsis and fatal septic shock, [and] gangrene of the digits or extremities.”

Greg Manteufel, an avid motorcyclist, with his Harley-Davidson
Courtesy Dawn Zwicker-Manteufel

Two days before his fever struck, Manteufel says he was at a birthday party where he came into contact with numerous dogs who were brought by guests. He thinks it was likely there that he was infected.

“I touched all the dogs that were there, I pet ’em all, I love dogs,” he says. “What might have happened was I touched one of the dogs or they licked my hand and then I rubbed my eye or my mouth or something, because I didn’t have any scratches or bites on me, open sores or nothing like that.”

Manteufel, who owns a female pit bull, says he never had a health issue stem from petting a dog before.

“I’ve been around dogs my whole life, having them lick at me in my face and hands and everywhere,” he explains. “The doctors told me I could have probably hit the lottery five times that day before I should have got what I got that day from a dog.”

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The CDC reports that about three in every 10 people who become infected with capnocytophaga die, and death can occur in as little as 24 to 72 hours after symptoms start.

As Manteufel’s situation grew critical, he recalls telling doctors at Froedtert Hospital, “Do whatever you have to do to keep me alive.”

Greg Manteufel with his beloved pit bull
Courtesy Dawn Zwicker-Manteufel

But because his body had decreased circulation to his limbs in response to the infection, doctors had to amputate Manteufel’s legs. Two weeks later, they removed his forearms, as well.

Dawn Zwicker-Manteufel, Manteufel’s wife, has been a constant presence at the hospital as he recovers — and will continue to be as he prepares for at least three more surgeries expected in the coming days.

After Manteufel’s hospitalization, a GoFundMe was set up to help the family with medical costs, and Manteufel hopes to be fitted for leg and hand prosthetics once he leaves the hospital.

Manteufel says he and the family will have to sell their two-story home to look for a place that will be more suitable to his needs going forward.

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Despite how quickly his life changed forever, Manteufel is in good spirits.

“I’m good to go. My mind is right, I’m not looking back one minute,” he says. “It sucks, but what are you gonna do, you know? My mind’s been 100 percent positive through all of this. Looking back is going to get you nowhere.”

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