A Florida woman has been warning people on Facebook about a flesh-eating bacteria that her father contracted while swimming — which took his life less than 48 hours later.
“Flesh Eating Bacteria sounds like an urban legend,” said Cheryl Bennett Wiygul, of Niceville, in a post Wednesday. “Let me assure you that it is not.”
Wiygul’s dad, Dave Bennett, had been visiting from Memphis last week and was in Destin — a popular Gulf of Mexico beach spot — with her and her mother.
The family had been enjoying a day of jet ski riding and “throwing the ball around in the water” at Rocky Bayou — an inlet connecting to Choctawhatchee Bay — when Bennett got infected.
“We had a blast,” remembered Wiygul, describing the week leading up to it.
“We were out in the bay on the boat near Crab Island, went to the beach in Destin twice, splashed around Turkey Creek, swam in Boggy Bayou, in our pool and then on Friday we spent the day at Rocky Bayou,” she said. “We left around 4:00 p.m. Daddy stayed up late Friday night and watched a movie. He was happy and talkative, seemed to feel fine as he did all week.”
On Saturday morning, Bennett woke up with “a fever, chills and some cramping.”
“My parents had planned to head back to Memphis that morning anyway and my mom wanted him to be near his doctors to have him checked out,” Wiygul said, noting how her dad “had cancer, therefore his immune system was compromised.”
“He’d been sick before and they knew his history,” she added, “so it seemed like the best thing to do.”
The family had been aware of recent problems with “naturally-occurring bacteria” in the waters around Destin, and had tried to come prepared.
“My parents were coming down to stay with me in Florida about a week after the post about a 12-year-old girl contracting bacteria that turned into necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) in Destin started circling around,” Wiygul explained. “I didn’t want to believe that. My family loves being in the water. Our county, Okaloosa County, posted an article titled ‘Rumor Control’ in response to the post which seemed to diffuse everyone’s fears. The girl had a cut on her leg so I felt like it reinforced to me not to go in with a cut. I researched a little. When my parents got in town I was fanatical about Neosporin and liquid bandaid. My Dad didn’t have any open wounds. He had a couple places that were practicality healed small scratches on his arms and legs that I made sure were super sealed up. My mom religiously sun-blocked him. We were taking precautions and we were good, so I thought.”
Bennett had “battled cancer for many years” and had “been in the water several times, so it didn’t seem like a risk” to go swimming, Wiygul said.
Less than 48 hours after their trip to Rocky Bayou, her father was dead.
“This is so raw and personal to me that I did not want to post about it, but if I can help one person, then it is worth it,” Wiygul said.
She recounted how doctors tried their best to save her dad, but there was ultimately nothing they can do.
“They got to the hospital in Memphis around 8 p.m. [Saturday],” Wiygul said, recalling how the medical staff “took him back immediately.”
“As they were helping him get changed into his hospital gown they saw this terribly swollen black spot on his back that was not there before. My mom sent me a picture of it and it felt like someone sucker punched me. I called and asked if it was actually black (because sometimes color is off in a photo) and she said it was black. I never saw a cut on his back and neither did she. We certainly hadn’t seen this spot. I told her to tell them he was in the water in Florida and it was necrotizing fasciitis. She told everyone that came in the room. One person told her the media had blown that out of proportion. Others said it was staph. They would not biopsy it. They did start him on IV antibiotics. The black spot had doubled in size. A new one was starting to pop up. His arms were becoming more blotchy by the minute and he was in a great deal of pain. Some of the nurses said they’d never seen anything like it. At 1 a.m. he became septic and they moved him into ICU. He coded shortly after and they had to bring him back. My dad had a lot of medical issues but heart was not one of them. They had to intubate him. He coded again. They said his organs were too damaged and his blood was too acidic to sustain life. He was gone by Sunday afternoon.”
Lab results later confirmed that Bennett had contracted “Vibrio vulnificus, which manifests into necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) ultimately leading to sepsis,” according to Wiygul.
“Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria that is transmitted by eating undercooked shellfish or through an open wound,” she explained. “There were no bacteria warnings at any beach or park we went to. They do post advisories for high bacteria but there were none.”
Wiygul hopes that her dad’s death and other similar incidents will finally get officials to do something to warn people. A 77-year-old woman was infected just last month and also died after swimming in Florida waters.
“I would never have taken my Dad in the water if there was a bacteria advisory,” Wiygul said, “but it would have been because I didn’t want him to get a stomach virus not because I thought it would kill him.”
She added, “I knew you shouldn’t swim with an open wound but I didn’t realize he shouldn’t be in the water with his immune system. I feel like I should have known and that is something I will live with for the rest of my life. If I would have done more research I would have but I don’t think the general public realizes it either. I do believe if there was a simple sign posted about the risk of swimming with an open wound or an immune disorder, we wouldn’t have let him get in.”