Ronald Poppo, the 65-year-old victim of the harrowing cannibal attack in Miami, is at greater threat from infections caused by the bites to his face than the injuries themselves, the Associated Press reported Wednesday evening.
With 75 percent of his face chewed off, the homeless man will face extensive surgery to help rebuild some of his features, but his face will be disfigured for life, experts on facial reconstruction told the AP.
Poppo remained in the hospital Wednesday, three days after the attack, as specialists work to ward off infections created by germs from the attacker's mouth.
The human mouth is basically filthy, Dr. Seth Thaller, the chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, told the AP.
On Saturday, Poppo fell victim to an 18-minute cannibal attack, while sleeping on elevated train tracks on a causeway. His attacker, Rudy Eugene, 31, had scattered his clothes from the beach to the mainland in Miami, before punching and straddling the homeless man and proceeding to eat his face, police say.
He had his face eaten down to his goatee. The forehead was just bone. No nose, no mouth, said Sgt. Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police.
Police shot Eugene to death after he refused to get off his victim. It is thought that he was under the influence of bath salt drugs, although toxicology results will not be available for a few weeks, officials say.
The rebuilding of Poppo's face will happen in stages, according to doctors who are working to keep the area clean and salvage viable tissue, according to the AP. The next stage of the process is to determine a plan for skin grafts. Doctors say they must not rush into the operating room; intricate planning needs to be carried out first.
To keep the wounds clean, doctors use grafts of the patient's skin, cadaver skin or synthetic skin to cover the exposed bone or cartilage, Dr. Blane Shatkin said. The coverage will act like a dressing, protecting the wound as it heals.
Poppo will also work with a physiologist in order to be able to participate with the decision-making process for his surgery. I think the patient has to be able to cope with the injury and the trauma and needs to figure out what has happened. It often takes them weeks to understand what has happened, Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told the AP.
Poppo had been homeless for more than 30 years. Before arriving in Florida he came to one a homeless shelter in Miami on Dec. 27, 1999, where he stayed for 141 days, according to the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. Since then he stayed at another shelter in 2003 for 10 days and several other shelters for one night each.