Florida Woman Says Father Died From Flesh-Eating Bacteria in Gulf Waters

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
July 12, 2019 Updated: July 12, 2019

A Florida Panhandle woman said her father died after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico from complications following infection with flesh-eating bacteria.

Cheryl Bennett Wiygul, of Niceville, told Fox 13 that her father, Dave Bennett, became sick less than 12 hours after visiting a Florida beach.

Wiygul told the outlet she thought his sickness initially had something to do with his cancer treatment. She said he developed a large black sore on his back and then his arms and legs broke out in a rash of red lumps.

“Within a few hours of being at the hospital, he had to be in the ICU. He turned septic and went into cardiac arrest,” Bennett Wiygul told the news outlet. “Just within 48 hours of him being in that water he was gone.”

Wiygul explained in detail how her father contracted the bacteria that ultimately led to his death.

In a widely shared Facebook post, she said that as her parents were coming up from Memphis to visit her in Florida, she took note of news reports of a local outbreak of a flesh-eating disease.

“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. I didn’t want to believe that,” Bennett Wiygul wrote. “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.”

While skeptical about the severity of the danger of the bacteria, Wiygul said she took extra precautions as her father had a compromised immune system due to cancer therapy.

“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,” Wiygul explained. “My mom religiously sun-blocked him. We were taking precautions and we were good, so I thought.”

She said the family visited the beach in Destin twice, played in Turkey Creek, swam in Boggy Bayou, and spent a day in Rocky Bayou riding jet skis and throwing a ball around in the water. Hours later, her father was sick.

“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. He’d been sick before and they knew his history so it seemed like the best thing to do,” Wiygul wrote.

As his condition deteriorated, he was rushed to a hospital in Memphis.

“My mom sent me a picture of it and it felt like someone sucker punched me,” Wiygul wrote. “… 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 said her father went into cardiopulmonary arrest several times before medical staff concluded nothing more could be done to save his life.

“They said his organs were too damaged and his blood was too acidic to sustain life. He was gone by Sunday afternoon. Less than 48 hours after getting out of the water feeling great, the bacteria had destroyed him,” Wiygul wrote.

Wiygul wrote that lab results confirmed that her father had contracted vibro vulnificus, which she said can develop into necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria.

“There were no bacteria warnings at any beach or park we went to,” Wiygul explained. “They do post advisories for high bacteria but there were none.”

She said she has decided to share her father’s tragic story as a warning to others.

“I am absolutely not trying to scare people from the beach or swimming. I love the water and so did my Dad,” Wiygul wrote. “People do need to know how to be more cautious and how to recognize symptoms. There is information out there but I didn’t find it all until it was too late. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Dead After Walking on Florida Beach

Various cases of flesh-eating bacteria have been reported in Florida over the last month or so.

The condition can be caused by several different types of bacteria, and is often known by the medical term “necrotizing fasciitis.”

“Necrotizing means causing the death of tissues,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noting that the condition is rare.

“Fasciitis means inflammation of the fascia (the tissue under the skin that surrounds muscles, nerves, fat, and blood vessels),” the agency says on its website.

Once an infection takes hold, it can develop and spread rapidly, killing tissue as it grows.

1 in 3 Cases Result in Death

The condition is more likely to occur in those with conditions that lower immunity, notably diabetes, kidney problems, cirrhosis of the liver, and cancer.

According to the CDC, early symptoms of the condition include a red or swollen area of skin that spreads quickly, severe pain, including pain beyond the area of the skin that is red, and a fever.

Although these symptoms can also be caused by minor illnesses, the CDC warns to err on the sided of caution. “See a doctor right away if you have these symptoms after an injury or surgery.”

“Later symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis can include: Ulcers, blisters, or black spots on the skin … changes in the color of the skin … pus or oozing from the infected area,” the agency says.

Dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea, and nausea are also symptoms.

“Even with treatment, up to 1 in 3 people with necrotizing fasciitis die from the infection,” according to the CDC website. Fortunately, the condition is not infectious and very rarely can be passed on through contact.