Ten minutes of casting nets for baitfish near Melbourne, FL almost cost John “Corky” Lewis his life. And he counts himself as lucky, as two other men died from the same affliction just days after exposure to the same body of water.
The 58-year-old – an avid fisherman – was on shore of a lagoon at Ballard Park when he spotted a school of little finger mullet right up by the bank, enabling him to cast his net without even getting wet.
According to the TC Palm, “Lewis threw his cast net twice and pulled in 70 or so mullet. With each haul, water from the net dripped down his legs and onto his feet. Because he usually has to wade into the water to catch bait, he was wearing sandals, which left a small scratch on the outside of his right ankle exposed.”
Just two days later, he woke up at 2am with his leg in excruciating pain – the worst he’d ever endured – and drove himself to the hospital where doctors treated him for cellulitis.
But it was far worse than what they expected. The water that had dripped onto his leg was contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, which causes potentially deadly infections in certain demographic groups – mainly older men with underlying health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
After 11 surgeries in 18 days – plus a 38 day stint at a rehab facility – doctors told Lewis that staff had not expected him to live. Indeed, two other men – David Trudell, 65, of Port St. Lucie, died two days after he was poked by the fin of a fish he’d just pulled from the lagoon. Bill Benton, 68, of Fort Pierce, died from the bacteria, three days after swimming in the lagoon.
Doctors attribute Lewis’ survival to the fact that the infection didn’t enter his bloodstream, which would have caused sepsis.
Chances of contracting a deadly Vibrio infection are low for healthy women and child – about the same as being hit by lightning or killed by a shark. Between 2008-2016, 297 people were infected with Vibrio in Florida, 88 of whom died.
As for Lewis, he says he’s not likely to go salt-water fishing again.
You can watch the video of his ordeal here. Caution: Graphic content.