The picture is so graphic that the reflex might be to look away. It’s a photo of an elderly man’s backside, eroded to the bone by a bedsore so severe that it has left even health-care experts shocked and horrified.

The photo is being shared by the daughters of 77-year-old Bob Wilson, in the hopes it will be a wake-up call to hospitals and long term care homes.

“We had no idea that this demon was brewing behind him. We don’t want another family to go through what we are going through,” said Bob Wilson’s daughter Sharon, surrounded by her sisters, Linda and Patty.

The once active Burlington, Ont. man was admitted to Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington five months ago after a serious fall. It wasn’t until April, when he was transferred to nearby Hamilton General for cranial surgery, that his family was made aware of the alarming wound. 

“I was shocked. That’s black, rotting skin. When I saw that...oh my God,” said Sharon. “He was literally lying there rotting alive and we didn’t know.”

Sharon says the attending physician and nurses at Hamilton General took a photo of the wound and showed it to them. “They were saying it’s the worst they have ever seen. That it was unstageable. They were just mortified by it. How could that have happened?” she said.

Bob Wilson’s family has been told the infection from the bedsore has burrowed into his bones and into his blood.

“He was septic when he arrived [at Hamilton General hospital]. They didn’t think he would make it through the night,” said his daughter, Linda Moss. “It’s a silent killer and that ultimately is what it is doing to our father.”

Late last week, Joseph Brant Hospital met with the family, who say they were promised a full investigation.

In a statement to CTV News, the hospital said it could not discuss individual cases because of privacy laws, but offered this: “The hospital undertakes quality of care reviews, specifically looking for opportunities to reduce the risk of further similar incidents, and to improve our overall performance.”

Bedsores are caused by pressure on the skin from lying or sitting in one position for extended periods of time. They are almost always preventable through proper assessment and care. But experts say pressure wounds are rampant in Canadian hospitals and long-term care facilities.  

Dr. Morty Eisenberg, president of Wounds Canada, says the most recent data available suggests 26 percent of patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities develop pressure wounds, which, when severe, can be deadly.

“That means one in four patients had a pressure injury. It continues to be a problem. The answer is ongoing education,” said Eisenberg.

The most recent data available from Ontario’s ministry of Health is from 2016, when more than 10,000 cases of pressure wounds were reported by hospitals across Ontario, and 24,500 cases were reported in long-term care facilities that same year.

Bob Wilson’s daughters have been told it is unlikely their dad will recover and they are plagued by guilt that, for months, they took turns sitting at his bedside and had no idea of the wound that was festering under the sheets.

“What gets me is, how can you put a band-aid on that and call it a day?” asked Moss. “In November, he was dancing at a wedding reception, a weekly bowler and a golfer. And we may lose him because of a bedsore, which is heartbreaking.”

For more information on how to advocate for proper wound care visit the Wounds Canada website.