Ronald “Griz” Winnert, who said he also had open heart surgery in 2016 and is diabetic, had no idea his compromised immune system played a role in the way the vibriosis viciously attacked his body.
“I had heard about (vibrio) but I didn’t think anything about it because I had been fishing back there for 30 years,” he said.
He said he had no idea that when he awoke after spending 10 days in a coma that he no longer had his right leg.
“I couldn’t even pick up a fork for the first few days,” he said. “They told me I didn’t have a leg — ‘What do you mean I don’t have a leg?’ — I just knew that I couldn’t get comfortable in the bed.”
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During Winnert’s life-and-death battle with the infection and for several months while he recovered, his daughter Brandy Miller was by his side.
“My brother called me the morning it happened and said he was taking Dad to the hospital because he thought he was having another heart attack,” Miller said. “ He called me later and said they didn’t think it was a heart attack but something is wrong with his leg.”
She said her father was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis or “flesh-eating bacteria.” Necrotizing fasciitis is a symptom of vibrio vulnificus, according to the National Institutes of Health. His organs started to shut down and Miller prepared herself for the worst. Although Winnert survived his battle with vibrio, he lost a lot of weight, his beloved beard and his right leg.
He said he also lost his will to fish.
“Yeah, I’m not going fishing again,” he said. “I actually moved here so I could fish more often, but those days are over.”
Miller said she became an expert in the terminology and symptoms related her father’s illness.
“I read and read and tried to learn as much as possible — I had to,” she said.
After spending months recovering with Miller at her home in Austin, Texas, Griz is back in Waveland, where he’s still adapting to life without a leg and the memories of his near-death experience.
“I’m still not really sure what happened, but I would hate for anyone else to go through it,” he said.
Ways to reduce vibriosis
- Don’t eat raw or undercooked oysters or other shellfish. Cook them well first.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water after handing raw shellfish.
- Avoid contaminating cooked shellfish with raw shellfish and its juices.
- Stay out of brackish or salt water if you have a wound (including cuts and scrapes), or cover your wound with a waterproof bandage if there’s a possibility it could come into contact with brackish or salt water, raw seafood or raw seafood juices.
- Wash wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and water if they have been exposed to seawater or raw seafood or its juices.
- If you develop a skin infection, tell your medical provider if your skin has come into contact with brackish or salt water, raw seafood, or raw seafood juices.