Martinsville gymnastics school owner survives, inspires after losing limbs

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MARTINSVILLE (WSLS 10) -- Hugh Gerlach, the owner of Blue Ridge Gymnastics in Martinsville, has always been athletic.

"I'm motivated to learn and to do and to make the best," he said. "I grew up in a family of 10 kids so you had to make do. If you didn't make do, you got run over," he joked.

It likely comes as no surprise to anyone who knows him, he's making the most of a life-changing event.

"I got a fever and I started getting a cough and I just thought I had the flu," he said.

The former weight training instructor and gymnastics school owner was fishing with the guys in North Carolina on October 25, 2015 when it happened.

"They don't know how it got in there. The only thing I had was a little scratch on this finger from casting the fishing line."

Streptococcus G entered in his bloodstream, he explained. It ate all of his white blood cells. Gerlach says he went into toxic and septic shock. He woke up nearly two weeks later.

"My hands and feet had gone necrotic, which means they died because the body tried to save the internal organs and it pushed all the blood to the internal organs and took the blood away from my hands and feet."'

He lost both hands, one foot and half of the other foot.

"At least I'm here. I'm me. I can handle this."

The infection couldn't take his drive. Less than four months out of the hospital, Gerlach is doing daily activities.

"So if I want to pull up my zipper I can," he said, going through the motion. "If I want to scratch my head whatever, I can do that. I brush my teeth, I floss my teeth and I shave. Everything with these hooks."

And he's doing laps at the local YMCA.

"When I first started, I was doing 300 yards in a half hour which is only 12 lanes back-and-forth. I'm up to 800 yards in the same half hour."

Gerlach puts paddles on his arms and a flipper on his foot before he drops into the pool. His wife joked, she calls him MacGyver, the star of the 80's TV series of he same name who was an expert at making complicated machines out of ordinary things quickly.

"The problem is if I kick with just one leg, I go in circles. So I have to compensate with my arms to stop me from going in circles. Just days straight in a lane."

Gerlach's family says he is unafraid to try. He said he relies on his faith.

"I became a Christian when I was in 11th grade so when I saw my hands and my feet I just turned it over to the Lord and said thy will be done. That's been my motto ever since."