Greenwood resident Kenny Watts is like a lot of Delawareans that live in proximity to the shore. He loves a cold beer, a fast ride, baseball, football and does the occasional crabbing.
One fateful day in 2017, the latter almost took away his left hand.
"Back in August of 2017, I was pinched by a crab that was carrying a virus called vibrio, that entered my bloodstream and ended up swelling my hand up," said Watts. "About 34 hours later I ended up at the emergency room, was incoherent, was on life support for two days--in a coma for four [days] and when I woke up, they explained to me that things were pretty bad."
With the daze that the flesh-eating disease rapidly tearing at Kenny's arm put him under, it took a while to grasp the severity of the situation.
"I was out for four days so I didn't understand--it probably took me a while," he said. "They told me a couple times that they were trying to save the hand. 'First off, we have to work on saving your life, but we've pretty much got that under control, now.' Then it was just the hand."
The vibrio may have made for a one-off with a gruesome scene, but Watts says the trend that year erred on the side of caution after his pinch.
"I've been pinched thousands of times and when the doctor came in, who was the infectious disease doctor, he said he'd been down here for 22 years and this might have been the fifth case of vibrio that he'd seen," Watts added. "He said don't stop what I was doing--if I like to fish, fish. If I like to crab, crab. I talked to him about four or five months ago and I think he's changed his tune now. At that time, he told me there were already 22 cases in Maryland and the water hadn't even gotten warm, yet. Once the water gets warm, it's only going to get worse."
That's right, it wasn't the crab pinch itself, but the water that was introduced that almost took Kenny's hand.
"I didn't know anything at the time but now it's maybe the number two flesh-eating disease that there is," he said. "It was important for them to stop it because they were, at one point, talking about amputating the arm up to the elbow."
Watts may have stared down the rest of his life with a partial limb, but he went from his first rational thought of "holy s!@#" to something a but more thought out.
"That was it, but it was more of a 'if that's what it takes to save my life' then, you know," Watts added. "I'm not happy with it, but if that's what it takes to save my life? I'd be happier to be alive."
Watts took the notions of amputation and not being able to use his hand as adequately again as challenges from his doctors and surgeons.
"The first thing that the team of doctors up there told me was that the hand would always be stiff because the ligaments took a bad hit--the tendons took a bad hit," he said.
A number of extensive surgeries later, Kenny found himself partnered up with Katie Merk, an occupational therapist with Beebe Healthcare who would help him get to where he wanted to be with his hand and sense of humor still in-tact.
"I remember the first day I met him and I walked into the room. He was just sitting there with his hand all bandaged up and told me he was doing pretty well," Merk said. "We talked for a little bit and he said 'did you just eat lunch? How sensitive is your stomach?' Then he showed me a picture of what his hand looked like without the bandaging and it was quite the hand, for sure."
The duo both had a can-do attitude and set out to get the most for Kenny's future.
"My goal, of course, is the patient's goal. We talked [on] day one about what he wanted to return to," she added. "His goal was to return to playing pool, being able to ride his motorcycle and just being able to use his hand., really. So we started off with range of motion because he couldn't make a fist at all when I started working with him.--Over time his wounds closed up and we got more and more range of motion. After we got more range we were able to test his hand out more and more so we did a lot of fine-motor work, some strengthening and I really worked that hand pretty hard."
Merk noted that Watts was a good sport and an excellent patient through the process, always wanting to push what he could do and make progress.
The duo worked hard enough to the point that Watts not only uses that hand, but has healed a ligament that surgeons thought they'd have to remove on top of outperforming any of the doctors'
"With her help, I can bend it. I can actually point a little," Watts added. "I don't know if [the doctor] was mistaken or the body just took over and healed that ligament or what, but I guess it's good he didn't take it out. It works pretty well, now."
Kenny Watts is now a success story like none other down in Sussex County and although he's allergic to the final product, don't count on him to stop crabbing anytime soon.