TUSTIN, Mich. (WWJ) – Medical experts are calling it a ‘rare death’ — a healthy 58-year-old woman has died after being bitten by a brown recluse spider in mid-Michigan.
Charles Strickland said his wife Betty Ann came home on Monday, June 30 after working the afternoon shift at her nursing job. The couple lives in Tustin, a rural area just east of the Manistee National Forest along US-131.
“I mean, we do live in the country and we have horses. My wife was always out with the horses,” Strickland told WWJ’s Marie Osborne.
But one thing was unusual about this day — Betty Ann showed her husband a bug bite on the top of her right foot.
“I looked at it, and it didn’t look usual at the time. I mean, we have black flies and things like that here, so it didn’t look unusual. It wasn’t swollen excessively, there was not a lot of redness,” he said.
But two days later, Strickland could tell something was really wrong with his wife.
“I asked her to go to the doctor and well, you’d have to know my wife, but she’s a nurse and going to the doctor just wasn’t something she was into,” he said. “She told me she’d be ok, she just needed to rest for a while.”
By Thursday morning, Strickland noticed his wife’s condition had worsened and demanded she go to the doctor.
“I was helping her and as we were coming down the stairs, she kept telling me how bad her foot hurt,” he said. “At that time, she had a great big bump about the size of a marble protruding out of where the bug had bit her.”
Strickland said his wife then started having trouble breathing, so he called his daughter, who lives in the next town over, and then called 911.
“While I’m talking to the lady, I’m talking to my wife, trying to figure out what’s going on, and my wife couldn’t talk. Her eyes were fixed straight ahead and she just couldn’t, she was gasping for air but she couldn’t get any air, is what it looked like,” he said.
Strickland said nearly as soon as his daughter arrived, his wife stopped breathing.
“We did CPR on my wife for about 40 minutes until the ambulance could get here,” he said. “And then they took over and did it for another 20 or 30 minutes, I guess, and that’s when they called it and said that my wife had passed away.”
When the medical examiner arrived on the scene, he took a picture of the bite on Betty Ann’s foot and consulted experts.
“Just within a short period of time, a matter of minutes, he got a response back and they told him that it was a recluse, a brown recluse spider bite,” Strickland said.
The experts said the bite on Betty Ann’s foot was highly unusual, so there were no immediate outward signs of trouble.
“Normally when people get bit by a spider, they get bit in a muscle or in a fatty tissue and my wife had been bitten in the blood vessel,” Strickland said. “The toxins were just circulating throughout her blood stream and it was infecting everything, all her organs, and he said it actually shut her whole system down, and that’s what killed her.”
Strickland said the loss has left his family in shambles, adding that his wife was the glue that held everyone together — always doing things for others first.
“Quite frankly, I was just in shock. I mean, my wife was actually quite a healthy person,” he said. “It is very devastating. I love my wife more than I can tell you. She was a very, very special person. I was just lucky to have her.”
According to the University of Michigan Health System, brown recluse spiders are found most often in the south-central part of the United States and live in hot, dry, abandoned areas, such as wood or rock piles. The spiders are about 0.5 inches long with a dark violin-shaped mark on the combined head and midsection.
Symptoms from a brown recluse spider bite include reddened skin with a blister that forms on the bite site, mild to intense pain and itching, according to U-M. A week or so following the bite, an open sore will form with a breakdown of tissue, which could take months to heal. Some people have more severe symptoms, such as fever and chills, a skin rash, nausea or vomiting and joint pain.
Treatment depends on how severe the bite is. Options range from a cold compress to antibiotics and pain medication.
According to experts, the brown recluse spider is not indigenous to Michigan.