Naples Daily News
Michigan family mourns loved one who came to Naples to help, acquires deadly infection
Liz Freeman, Naples Daily News – October 20, 2022
A Michigan man who came to Naples to help a friend in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian died from a deadly bacteria that lives in standing water.
James Hewitt, of Jenison, Mich., fell in the water while helping a friend with his boat and he scratched his leg, according to FOX 17 in western Michigan.
He put anti-bacteria ointment on the wound and thought that was enough, his fiancé, Leah Dalano, told the news station.
“He just helped so many people, that’s just what he wanted to do,” Delano told FOX17.
Hewitt went to a hospital after his leg had become swollen and he was in pain.
That’s when doctors diagnosed the infection as vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria found in warm salty or brackish waters that can enter the body through open wounds.
“It goes after your vital organs and it leaves you with horrible blisters near the area,” Delano told FOX 17. “He got scratched on his leg and it was unrecognizable.”
One of his sons, Kendall Smoes, posted on his Facebook page five days ago that his father fought hard but died peacefully with his family and his fiancé by his side. Smoes could not be reached for comment.
The state Department of Health in Collier put out an advisory Oct. 4 about the danger of vibrio vulnificus and how the bacteria can grow quickly. Sewage spills in coastal waters caused by Ian can increase the bacteria levels.
“Vibrio vulnificus can cause and infection of the skin when open wounds are exposed to warm sea water,” the advisory said. “These infections may lead to skin breakdown and ulcers. Anyone can get vibrio vulnificus infection; however infections can be severe for people with weakened immune systems, especially people who have chronic liver disease or take medications that lower the body’s ability to fight germs.”
Since the beginning of 2022, there have been three cases in Collier and 28 in Lee County. Statewide there have been 64 cases, according to the state health department’s reportable disease website.
There is one case of vibrio vulnificus reported this month in Collier that is tied to Ian, according to Kristine Hollingsworth, spokeswoman for the state health department in Collier
She could not disclose details. It is unrelated to the recent vibrio vulnificus death of Hewitt, who came to Naples from Michigan.
“The person from Michigan would count as a case for Michigan (state of residency), even though we did the investigation,” she said.
Vibrio vulnificus can invade the bloodstream, causing a severe life-threatening illness with symptoms like fever, chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions.
It does not spread person-to-person. If someone is concerned that they may have been exposed to vibrio vulnificus and experiencing symptoms, they should seek medical care.
For more information, go to the Florida Department of Health at floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/vibrio-infections/vibrio-vulnificus/index.html