Escovedo's triumph sheds light on staph infections in MMA
Former WEC champion Cole Escovedo suffered from a staph infection in 2007
First diagnosed as an ingrown hair, the disease nearly shut down his body
After Escovedo, Leopoldo Serao and Kevin Randleman also had bouts with MRSA
Perched above the ring after professionally battering a man for the first time in three years, Cole Escovedo's tortured legs quivered under his slender frame.
In the span of a week during the first month of 2007, Escovedo went from thinking a spider had bitten him on the forearm to coping with a bladder swollen to the size of a small basketball, and the fear that accompanies paralysis.
Three visits in as many days to Fresno-area hospitals accomplished little except making Escovedo aware of an uncomfortable allergic reaction to morphine. The spider bite? An ingrown hair, he was told. And muscle spasms were apparently responsible for the inability to walk. The pain, however, was so agonizing it could make a man cry who never did.
"Security almost threw me out because I decided they're not kicking him out anymore," recalled Escovedo's mother, Laura Robitschek, following his return to the ring in May. "All I could keep thinking was there's a spider bite and it's gotten into his bloodstream. But nobody was listening to what I was saying."
Escovedo, who turns 28 in August, learned at the last possible moment that a rampaging staph infection was shutting down his body, not poison from a Brown Recluse or Black Widow. When an MRI uncovered a blockage of his spinal cord, he was transported in the middle of the night to see a neurosurgeon. Any delay in treatment would provide Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) -- an easily transmitted drug-resistant bacteria known to cause skin, blood, joint and bone infections -- time to permanently bound "The Apache Kid" to a wheelchair.
Escovedo, who reigned as the first WEC featherweight champion before Urijah Faber took the belt in 2006, faced two options: hope an extensive course of antibiotics would do the trick against an evolving superbug, or undergo emergency surgery aimed at cleaning out the infection. Neither were guarantees..
"I'm in too much pain. I can't take pills and hope it works. Cut me open and I'll take my chances," the fighter told doctors.
Made from a scalpel and 17 staples, a zipper of a scar along his spine remains proof of Escovedo's war with MRSA.
So, too, are those shaky legs.