Michigan man dies from bacteria while helping in Ian recovery

Published: October 14, 2022 5:28 PM EDT
Updated: October 15, 2022 6:12 AM EDT

Hospitals reported a spike in injuries after Ian as people started to clean up storm debris.

Cuts, along with broken bones and sprains, are the most common thing they’re treating.

But in one instance, a dangerous bacteria found in salt or brackish water, took the life of a man who came here to help the recovery.

Jim Hewitt was home in Michigan but felt an urgent need to help.

He told his kids, Kendall Smoes and Josh Hewitt, he was driving to Naples along with a friend who owned property there.

“He was devastated by what he saw down here,” Smoes said. “He, he would call all of us and just try to explain it and couldn’t even find the words to talk about what he was seeing. He was, he was thrilled that he could help, though.”

Hewitt was the kind of person with a big heart and a big presence. He threw himself into everything he did.

His loved ones said that was his downfall.

“He called me probably a few hours before the accident happened, where he cut his leg and just said that he is glad he was down here to help and that you walk down the street and see fans drying out houses and people just trying to clean up the entire neighborhood he was in,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt mentioned that he fell in the water and cut his leg while salvaging a boat.

He applied antibacterial and moved on.

The next day he realized something was wrong when his leg became extremely painful and swollen.

He went to the hospital.

In a matter of hours, health workers at NCH were deep in a battle to save his life.

“They weren’t really sure how things were going to go and that they really, they encouraged us to get down here as soon as possible,” Smoes said.

A bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus entered his body through the open wound. It’s found in warm, salty water that includes brackish estuaries.

About one in five people who become infected don’t survive.

Vibrio can lead to sepsis and organ failure, which is what happened to Hewitt.

NCH Chief Nursing Officer Ilia Echevarria said it is a serious threat to people are working around coastal stormwater.

“It’s not clean water,” Echevarria said. “It’s saltwater with a lot of debris and other things that it might have carried in. So if you have an open wound and you’re immersed in water that is contaminated with bacterial growth, it poses a higher risk as well of infection.”

It’s something no one saw coming.

His children are devastated. Within three days, Hewitt was gone. They barely made it to Florida to be by his side.

“I think he fought, he fought until we all could be there. For him to pass, he wanted us all to be able to see him and, you know, share stories and express our, your love for him and surround him,” Smoes said.

His children and fiancee are left with memories and the comfort of knowing Hewitt was one of the helpers.

“He did not like to see anybody suffering. It hurt him to see the suffering in this world,” said his fiancee Leah Delano.

This bacteria is extremely vicious. It can also be fatal when someone eats a raw oyster tainted by it.

As for being around the water, health experts say that is why it is so important to protect any wounds or sores.