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Separatist Leader Survives Flesh-Eating Disease

December 3, 1994

TORONTO (AP) _ A day after losing his leg to a flesh-eating disease, Canadian opposition leader Lucien Bouchard vowed to continue his political career, dedicated to making Quebec an independent country.

″We are carrying on. Thank-you.″ he said in a note scrawled in his hospital bed and presented by his doctors at a news conference Friday.

Doctors said Bouchard, the charismatic Quebec separatist who leads the opposition in Canada’s House of Commons, underwent three operations since being admitted to the hospital Tuesday.

His condition was improving and, if no further complications occur, he should recover fully in about three or four months, said Dr. Patrick d’Amico at Montreal’s St. Luc Hospital.

Bouchard, 55, was struck by a rare disease known as necrotizing myositis. It is similar to necrotizing fasciitis, the ″flesh-eating disease″ that caused alarm in Britain this year, but attacks muscle rather than connective tissue.

Dr. Francois Lamothe, a specialist in microbiology who also appeared at the news conference, said the disease is caused by the streptococcus A bacterium. It is fatal in 80 percent of the cases.

The bacteria are common and infection usually results in sore throats or tonsillitis. But in about one case in a million, the bacterium turns deadly.

Bouchard, a former Conservative Cabinet minister, bolted former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government in 1990 and formed his own party. The new party became, effectively, the national arm of the Parti Quebecois, the provincial party dedicated to the secession of Quebec.

In the 1993 federal elections, the Bloc Quebecois won 54 seats to become the official opposition to the ruling Liberals in the House of Commons.

Few wanted to speculate on what the absence of Bouchard would have on the political scene or a referendum on independence expected next year in Quebec. ″Next week we’ll work with a great sense of solidarity,″ said Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc Quebecois whip. ″We’ll just wait for Mr. Bouchard to come back.″