Iraq War veteran still battling a stubborn foe

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BENNINGTON - Former Bennington resident William Krawczyk thought he was returning home from his second tour of duty in Iraq unharmed. It turned out, however, that his battle was just beginning.

Krawczyk, 46, a first sergeant in the Army Reserves, now lives in Erie, Pa. Once the epitome of good health, he is now very sick, suffering from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a skin infection that has grown resistant to antibiotics.

Krawczyk was on his second deployment in Iraq in May 2005 when he noticed what appeared to be a welt on one of the fingers on his right hand. It soon transformed into a painful blister. Doctors drained the blister, put him on antibiotics and he returned to service.

About a month later, however, Krawczyk said he developed a cyst on his left hand. Doctors again drained it, but this time sent a sample off for testing. It showed that showed Krawczyk had MRSA. He was put on vancomycin, a powerful antibiotic, to no avail. In Dec. 2005, Krawczyk said another cyst developed on his stomach.

Krawczyk soon left Iraq and returned to Erie when his tour of duty ended in Jan. 2006. But just one week after his return he noticed a new cyst on his left hand. New "unbelievable painful" cysts continued to appear and doctors continued to drain them, he said.

"I have three new ones this week," Krawczyk said Wednesday after returning from a visit with one of his doctors.

But that's not all. His immune system began to fail, too. He has met with doctors at the Cleveland Clinic and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, but no one can tell him why.

"The problem is the doctors don't know what's wrong with me. They can't pinpoint what's wrong," Krawczyk said. "I don't know if they're ever going to find out what's wrong with me."

Krawczyk has his own theory. He believes he was bitten by a spider, but adds that his doctors have not been able to determine that. "When I first went to the Air Force hospital they thought it was a spider," he said.

Krawczyk said his body began producing abnormally high amounts of white blood cells, which help the body fight infections. "They don't know where to fight the infection in my body," he said. "Usually, I get sick every few weeks. I can't fight infections anymore."

Soon, Krawczyk, who speaks in a quiet, labored tone, was unable to continue working as a production manager for Alltel. His arms and legs began to swell to twice their size and he started to feel constantly fatigued.

The Army is covering most of the medical expenses, but his ailments have caused strain on his family's finances, Krawczyk said. His wife must take time off from work to help him get to his medical appointments. The loss of income has caused the couple to dip into their savings.

"When I have to travel they don't pay for my wife's time off from work. I can't drive long distances," he said.

Krawczyk and his wife and their two children have suffered emotionally as well, but his family has been supporting him, he said. "My family is pretty strong. We're just tired. We want some answers," he said.

Krawczyk said he has hope that doctors will find some medical explanation - and cure - for his ailment. "What else is there to do?" he said.

But he's also frustrated with how his life has progressed since coming home from Iraq. Krawczyk is now on intravenous fluids twice a day to receive his antibiotics. He takes medication to settle his stomach, and a handful of pills every six hours.

"What life? I'm so drugged up I don't know where I'm at. It's horrible," Krawczyk said. "The infection is beating me to a pulp." Krawczyk's father, Albert Krawczyk, who lives in Bennington, said his son hasn't been able to travel back home for nearly two years. Albert and his wife traveled to Erie for Thanksgiving, though, to visit.

"Here we have a young man that is walking with a cane, can't do anything," Albert Krawczyk said. "He's full of ulcers."

The hardest part of the ordeal, for Albert Krawczyk, has been seeing his youngest son fighting an unknown enemy.

"It's sad that somebody goes over and comes back like this. Basically, (my son) says that if he was shot and lost a leg he'd be better off than having this," the elder Krawczyk said.

Despite his constant pain and struggle, Krawczyk said he is "absolutely" happy with the care he has received from the Army and has no regrets.

"I have no regrets being in the military, and I have no regrets going over there and serving my country," he said.


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