Flesh-eating bacteria swept ashore by Hurricane Ian claims life of beloved Michigan father who came to help

James Hewitt traveled from Michigan to Naples, Florida to help a friend with his boat following Hurricane Ian and contracted flesh-eating bacteria after cutting himself in the water which quickly killed him, devastating his family.

(Video Credit: CBS Miami)

Hewitt was only 54 and came from Jenison, Michigan. He passed away on October 11 after contracting Vibrio Vulnificus. The bacteria thrive in warm saltwater. He cut his leg when he fell into a canal while working on his friend’s boat that was damaged in Hurricane Ian.

The cut became infected even after putting antibacterial ointment on it. The bacteria entered his bloodstream and led to sepsis, low blood pressure, and organ failure. His daughter Kendall Smoes, 29, announced his passing on Facebook after he was hospitalized.

“He fought a hard battle but went peacefully [on October 11] with Joshua, Leah, and I at the bedside,” she tearfully wrote on social media.

“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,” Kendall told CBS Miami in an interview.

The family told reporters they were “extremely shocked” by Hewitt’s death. They claim non-locals did not receive any warning that the deadly bacteria was a risk in the water.

“We were very angry that nobody knew about this at least from up here, you know, in Michigan. It’s a problem now, this is out there and it has been out there and the locals know about it but the people that go down to help don’t,” Hewitt’s fiancée Leah Venlet-Delano told the Detroit News.

There have been 65 cases of the lethal bacteria in Florida this year, according to CBS Miami.

His children and fiancée told the media that Hewitt would give the shirt off his back to help others. When he saw the devastating damage by the Category 4 storm, he rushed to his friend’s side on October 5.

“He jumped at this opportunity because he had seen, like the rest of us just how devastating the hurricane was,” Leah told the Detroit News during the interview. “Jim is always the kind of person that would, you know, give the clothes off his back.”

Hewitt was helping an old friend pack up his damaged house and salvage his boat on October 8 when he fell into the canal. After applying ointment, he didn’t give the cut a second thought until the next day when his leg became “extremely painful and swollen.” He asked his friend to take him to the hospital.

Doctors knew what they were looking at and immediately began treatment with antibiotics. Hewitt failed to respond quickly enough to them.

“He continued to worsen and decline in the emergency department and was admitted to the ICU with sepsis, where he ended up on a total of 5 vasopressors to try to support his heart and blood pressure,” his daughter wrote on Facebook.

He was eventually put on a ventilator and sedated Sunday. He would never wake up again.

Before he went under, Kendall spoke with her father and told him, “Dad I need you to fight with everything in your being and I am coming and I will be there as soon as I can.”

“I cried in fear while saying this to him not knowing if I would make it in time. The last thing he said to me was that he loved me too,” she said on GoFundMe. The fundraising site has raised more than $6,500.

Kendall arrived at the hospital on Monday. Her brother Josh and his fiancée arrived on Tuesday. James was gone by Tuesday evening.

“I know my Dad had a big heart filled with love for so many friends and family,” Kendall wrote with a broken heart.

“He was so full of life and love and we’ve really, we really lost someone very special,” Leah told the Detroit News.

“The people that want to help are usually coming from areas that they’re not familiar with… the dangers that are down there and I think that message should be shared,” his fiancée remarked.

“They’re not necessarily part of an organized volunteer group that may receive that kind of information,” she commented. “If you have an existing condition, or even if you’re perfectly healthy and have any open cuts, don’t go into that water. You don’t know what’s in it.”

Hewitt was the second person from Michigan to die as a result of Hurricane Ian. Over 100 others also lost their lives due to the monster storm.

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