Tearful boys begged their father to live

LONDON: The widow of a victim of the flesh-eating bacteria told how she kissed her husband as their children pleaded with him not to die.

Christine Bowden, whose husband Terry had been fit and healthy two days earlier, said she ''could not believe this was happening to me''.

Mrs Bowden, 34, of London, watched and prayed helplessly as the infection ate away at muscle in her husband's right leg after he was taken to Lewisham Hospital, southeast London, four months ago.

Bowden, a healthy man, had not let a year of unemployment affect his fitness. Unlike other victims, he had not undergone surgery and did not have an open wound. In his case, the infection attacked muscle, not fat.

Mrs Bowden recalled the shock of his death: ''On the Sunday he cooked breakfast as normal. As the morning wore on, he complained that he had flu and a headache.'' Later that day, he complained of leg pains. She called an ambulance.

At first she was reassured by his treatment at the hospital. There was talk of blood clots and possible surgery.

Bowden, 39, became increasingly ill. The drugs did little for the pain and his right leg swelled.

''He looked as if he was wearing a mask of greyness across his face. Terry was quite delirious and this time he was scared and I knew,'' Mrs Bowden said.

The doctors at first told her they were trying to stabilise his condition before operating. When he came out of theatre and she was told about the dead muscle being cut away and the risk of toxic poisoning and kidney failure, Mrs Bowden still did not realise he might die.

''It still did not sink in, because they use the word 'poorly' and I don't think of that as life threatening. But I have learnt since that they use that word.'' The truth hit her when she went to the intensive care unit to give her heavily sedated husband a kiss before going home. ''Another doctor asked me what I knew. He said it was more probable that Terry would die rather than live.'' Mrs Bowden forced herself to go home and tell their two oldest children, Greg, 14, and James, 12, and ask if they wanted to be with their father.

''We were pleading with him not to die. He did not want to die. I kissed him and pleaded with him not to die,'' she said.

At 10.45 am on the Tuesday, 48 hours after he had been fit and healthy, her husband died.