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Photo provided by Erin Salhani -- Richard Empson, middle, of Baton Rouge is in a Mississippi intensive care unit after he contracted a flesh eating bacteria while on a vacationing trip to the state over the weekend. His son Ryan is at the left and daughter Katelyn at right.

A Baton Rouge man is fighting for his life in a Bay St. Louis hospital after contracting a flesh-eating bacteria while on a family vacation last weekend in Mississippi.

Richard Empson, 69, was getting ready to leave Waveland, Mississippi, on Monday morning when he told family members he didn’t feel well enough to make it back to Baton Rouge, his sister-in-law Lonnie Daggett said Wednesday.

Family took him to an emergency room Monday morning and by 3 a.m. Tuesday Empson was in surgery to have part of his leg amputated.

“It was very touch and go,” Daggett said. “The doctors didn’t give much hope.”

By Wednesday evening, Empson was still in the intensive care unit, but was improving, she said. Every visiting hour throughout the day, the family gathers around the St. Thomas More Catholic Church member and prays the rosary, she said.

“He’s steadily getting better,” she said. “It’s the Lord healing him.”

It all happened so quickly, she said, and Empson is still very ill, but there’s more hope than there was earlier in the week.

“He’s a strong man and he’s a fighter,” Daggett said.

Although the tests for what type of bacteria infected Empson wasn’t ready Wednesday afternoon, Daggett said there were other symptoms that led doctors to believe it is a “flesh-eating” bacteria.

Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria that lives in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and other warm ocean waters around the country. The bacteria gets into the body, and sometimes bloodstream as happened in this case, and can produce a toxin that destroys tissue, giving rise to the term “flesh-eating bacteria.”

“People need to know what happened so they can take precautions,” Daggett said.

Recommendations include staying out of the water if a person has a cut, using gloves when handling fish, using a disinfectant after handling shrimp or bait, and cleaning any wound immediately. If a wound starts showing signs of infection, like getting swollen or warm, seek immediate medical attention.

A statement released Wednesday night from the family notes that “this is obviously an emotional time for our family. Our focus is on the continued fight of our husband, father and grandfather, Richard Empson. He is a fighter and has continued to put up a courageous fight.

“He was only given a 20-30 percent chance of survival after his surgery, but has defied the odds thus far. He is progressing slowly, but the doctors are cautiously optimistic.”

The family, in the statement, also thanks the staff at Hancock Medical Center, family and friends and “the thousands of people, worldwide, who have prayed for him, offered us well wishes or helped in other ways.”

Empson’s nieces have set up an account with YouCaring, a crowd-funding site, to help pay for the medical bills and eventual rehabilitation he’ll need at https://www.youcaring.com/richard-dick-empson-593330. As of Wednesday afternoon, the site had helped raise $2,180 through 30 donors.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10