Man Dies From Rare Flesh-Eating Bacteria After Helping Clean Up From Hurricane Ian

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Nearly a month has passed since Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm in western Florida. Yet cleanup and recovery efforts have practically just begun. Floodwaters continue to be a major problem for FL residents affected by the historic storm. This is not only due to property damage and loss, but also because the murky waters are now home to several dangerous inhabitants. Several include displaced reptiles like snakes and alligators, hordes of disease-carrying mosquitoes, and rare flesh-eating bacteria. Sadly, one man was killed by flesh-eating bacteria after aiding in cleanup and recovery efforts following Hurricane Ian.

According to the New York Post, James Hewitt, a resident of Grand Rapids, Michigan, headed to Fort Myers, FL on Wednesday, October 5th. He made his way there to help a friend after his home sustained hefty damage due to Hurricane Ian. Hewitt’s daughter, Kendall Smoes, said that her father had found out a friend needed help cleaning up after the storm struck. Unfortunately, for Hewitt’s friend, Hurricane Ian came just 10 days after his father had passed away. Before the hurricane, he had been working to settle his late father’s estate, which included a house and a boat in Naples.

Per the news outlet, Hewitt and his friend began cleanup from the storm several days after the late man left MI. Hewitt’s fiancé, Leah Delano, said that he had fallen into a canal and injured his leg. But, at the time, he thought nothing of it, just cleaned the wound and carried on.

“He cut up his leg somehow,” she said, “and that is how the bacteria entered his body.”

Hurricane Ian Continues to Wreak Havoc on Families

The flesh-eating bacteria that attacked Hewitt and ultimately killed him in the wake of Hurricane Ian moved pretty quickly. Hewitt injured and cut open his leg on October 8th. By the next day, he was experiencing extreme pain ultimately sending him to the hospital.

At the hospital, Smoes said, “they determined he had an infection in his blood known as vibrio vulnificus…caused by a saltwater bacteria.”

Per her account, this particular kind of flesh-eating bacteria comes with a high mortality rate. However, her father was even more at risk for death as she revealed he also battled a weakened immune system.

Hewitt sadly died just a few days after contracting the deadly bacteria on October 11th. DeLano said that hospital staff kept Hewitt alive long enough for Smoes and her brother to come see him.

Recalling her late fiancé, she said, “Jim spent tireless efforts in helping others and making friends. He had a vibrancy for life that was unmatched and had a love for me and his family that was his number one priority.”