Spending a day at the beach can be fun whatever your age. And whether you choose to just soak up some rays or to take a dip in the cool blue ocean, hopefully all that you’ll take back with you are some good memories – and perhaps some sand in your shoes. For Dave Bennett, though, his trip to the beach in July 2019 had catastrophic – and heartbreaking – consequences.
A resident of Memphis, Tennessee, Bennett and his wife had gone to see their daughter Cheryl Bennett Wiygul in Niceville, Florida, during that month. Then, after getting together, the family spent a fun day out in Destin to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend – and enjoyed plenty of time in the water to boot.
Bennett and his relatives eventually returned to Wiygul’s home following their spell at the beach. And apparently the dad was in good spirits; by the end of the day he was relaxing on his own, catching a late-night movie on TV. Yet everything would change just a few hours later.
In the early morning, Bennett appeared to develop a fever ahead of his return trip to Memphis. The family patriarch, who was also battling cancer at that time, was therefore taken to a local hospital on his way home. And as the staff checked Bennett over, they discovered something ominous: a dark, inflamed sore on his back.
Before Bennett’s health took a turn for the worse, though, he was out enjoying what summer has to offer. And the season is often the best of the year; thanks to the warmer weather, it’s much more pleasant to kick back and relax with loved ones outdoors.
Naturally, then, beaches are particularly popular during the summer months – not least because there’s the option of splashing around and cooling down in the ocean. However, depending on where you live, some beaches aren’t just busy from June to August. In places such as Florida, you see, warm temperatures are fairly consistent throughout much of the year.
And in Florida, one area in particular remains a big draw. The state’s Emerald Coast continues to be a popular spot for tourists because of its number of beautiful locales, from Niceville to Pensacola – many of which boast sparkling waters and spotless sands.
The city of Destin, which is also located on the Emerald Coast, earns its fair share of visitors, too. In fact, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has revealed that a whopping 80 percent of the region’s annual tourists make a beeline for the attractive Okaloosa County destination.
And in June 2019 Indiana-based Kylei Brown and her family were just some of the many heading to Destin for some rest and relaxation. Naturally, the clan visited one of the city’s beaches during that trip, too. The following day, though, the 12-year-old noted an ache in her right leg that steadily got worse.
Then, a further 24 hours on, Brown’s leg began to show signs of being inflamed, while the youngster herself also displayed fever-like symptoms. But while Brown’s family ultimately had to head home, upon their return the girl was taken to a local hospital – and while there, she received a disturbing diagnosis.
Alarmingly, Brown had picked up a dangerous bacteria during her time away in Destin, with this then triggering a flesh-eating infection called necrotizing fasciitis in her leg. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this particular condition can be lethal regardless of how it’s treated.
The CDC’s website explains, “Necrotizing fasciitis can lead to sepsis, shock and organ failure. It can also result in life-long complications from loss of limbs or severe scarring due to surgically removing infected tissue. Even with treatment, up to one in three people with necrotizing fasciitis die from the infection.”
Thankfully for Brown, she managed to survive her ordeal following a number of operations – although her treatment is far from over yet. The preteen’s mom believes that she caught the bacteria through a cut in her leg that she had acquired prior to her trip to Destin. And, unsurprisingly, when the troubling story hit the headlines, it left some concerned.
Wiygul had heard about Brown’s case, for one, and that had prompted her to do a bit of digging on the subject of necrotizing fasciitis. After all, her parents were due in town soon, and her father’s health had already been compromised.
Yes, as Bennett was battling cancer at that time, his daughter was a little worried that he may be susceptible to the bacteria. And sadly for Wiygul, her fears were well placed. A short time after her parents’ visit, she wrote a lengthy message on Facebook explaining everything that had transpired in the wake of the vacation.
“There is not enough education out there about the bacteria in the water,” Wiygul said on the social media website. “There needs to be signs posted at every beach, every city and state park and every bayou stating… ‘Due to naturally occurring bacteria in the water, people with open wounds or compromised immune systems should not enter.’”
Wiygul continued, “I knew about the open wounds. Many people I’ve talked to don’t. They think saltwater is good for cuts. Saltwater alone may be, but the bacteria enters through cuts.” And from there, she switched her focus back to Bennett, noting the concerns she’d had prior to his trip to Florida.
In particular, Wiygul touched upon Bennett’s previous health issues. She explained, “My dad had cancer, therefore his immune system was compromised.” Nevertheless, she added of her father, “He’s battled cancer for many years and has been in the water several times, so it didn’t seem like a risk.”
Then Wiygul spoke about Brown’s ordeal in Destin – the news story that had sparked her initial fears about her dad. Details of the 12-year-old’s brush with necrotizing fasciitis had emerged just a few days before her parents had arrived in Niceville for the Fourth of July holiday.
“I didn’t want to believe [what happened to Brown],” Wiygul admitted. “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.”
And following Bennett’s arrival, his wife and daughter took every precaution they could to protect him. Using sunscreen and liquid bandages, Wiygul ensured that her dad’s cuts and grazes were “super sealed up” before kicking off the weekend. Then, after that, they went on to enjoy a pretty lively trip.
Wiygul continued, “We had a blast. We were out in the bay on the boat near Crab Island, went to the beach in Destin twice, splashed around Turkey Creek [and] swam in Boggy Bayou [and] in our pool. Then on Friday, we spent the day at Rocky Bayou riding jet skis and throwing the ball around in the water.”
Then, finally, Wiygul and her family made their way back to her house, with Bennett in particularly good spirits. Wiygul later recalled on Facebook, “We left [at] 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.”
However, Bennett’s condition took a sudden turn in the early hours of the morning. According to Wiygul, this was around “12 hours after” she and her relatives had been enjoying themselves in the Florida water. And much as had been the case with Brown, her father had displayed fever-like symptoms when he woke up along with some aches and pains.
“My parents had planned to head back to Memphis that morning anyway,” Wiygul explained on the social media website. “And my mom wanted [Bennett] 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.”
Unfortunately for Bennett, though, his condition only deteriorated on the trip back. Wiygul wrote on Facebook, “His legs started to hurt severely. He was becoming extremely uncomfortable. My dad has been through a lot and he is not a complainer, so he had to have been in a lot of pain to vocalize it.”
So, Bennett’s wife drove him to the Baptist Memorial Hospital, located in their hometown of Memphis. And when the couple arrived at the facility in the evening, the staff admitted Wiygul’s dad straight away. When the true cause of Bennett’s condition was discovered, however, it may have come as a shock.
Wiygul revealed, “As [the staff] were helping [Bennett] 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, and she said it was black.”
At that point, Wiygul looked back at what happened to Brown. Yes, given everything that she had read about that story, the Niceville resident was fairly certain that Bennett was suffering from the same thing. And thanks to that knowledge, she implored her mother to tell the staff that her dad had necrotizing fasciitis.
“One person told [my mom] the media had blown that [story] out of proportion,” Wiygul continued on Facebook. “Others said it was [a staph infection]. They would not biopsy it. They did start [Bennett] on IV antibiotics. [But] the black spot had doubled in size. A new one was starting to pop up.”
Bennett’s problems didn’t end there, though. Wiygul wrote, “At 1:00 a.m. he became septic, and they moved him into [the] ICU. He coded shortly after, and they had to bring him back. My dad had a lot of medical issues, but [his] heart was not one of them. They had to intubate him. He coded again.”
But following those close calls, Wiygul’s family would receive some devastating news about Bennett’s condition. His daughter added on Facebook, “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.”
And a few days on from their tragic loss, Bennett’s family got some answers from the hospital in Memphis. According to their results, his necrotizing fasciitis had brought on by another dangerous bacteria called vibrio vulnificus. People normally acquire vibrio vulnificus by either consuming raw shellfish or by through exposed cuts.
Then Wiygul went on to make a heartbreaking revelation in her Facebook post. She said, “I knew you shouldn’t swim with an open wound, but I didn’t realize [that my dad] 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.”
Yet Wiygul would raise an intriguing point about the overall lack of knowledge relating to the bacteria. She wrote, “If I would have done more research I would have [known about the danger], but I don’t think the general public realizes it either.”
Wiygul continued, “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 [my dad] get in. [But] I am absolutely not trying to scare people from the beach or swimming. I love the water, and so did my dad.”
After that, Wiygul had one last thing to say on the matter. She explained, “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I don’t need anyone to tell me what we should or should not have done. We already know. It was too late for us. Please just pass this on so it can help someone else.”
And Wiygul’s emotional words have since made a big impact on Facebook. Her post went viral, in fact, earning over 9,000 likes and more than 35,000 shares. The powerful story also generated over 300 comments – many of which were supportive of the bereaved daughter.
Perhaps one message in particular stood out from the rest, though. A Facebook user posting in response to Wiygul’s warning revealed that they had known Bennett from many years ago – and with that in mind, the news may have come as something of a shock.
“So sorry about your dad,” the social media user wrote. “I went to high school with him. So tragic. [I’m] sure we don’t hear half of [these] cases. Thanks for sounding the alarm out of your grief.” And, hopefully, Wiygul’s tale will at least make some think twice before they choose to take to the water in future.