More often than not, doctors are able to identify what’s ailing their patients. Yet, even with years of training and expertise, they can make mistakes. Unfortunately, when that happens, it often results in dire consequences—as was the case for one young boy named Keith Pierce.
When the 10-year-old developed a painful mark on his skin, doctors weren’t quite sure what it was—and they decided to send him home. Keith’s mother made multiple desperate pleas for the doctors to explore every option, but before anyone could act, tragedy struck…
For the most part, Keith Pierce (center), a 10-year-old from Three Forks, Montana, seemed to have everything going for him. He had a family who loved him, plenty of friends in his fourth grade class, and every day seemed to bring with it something new and exciting.
He was healthy, happy, and he was even a skilled football player! It was like nothing in the world could slow him down. Then one day, out of nowhere, he noticed a strange swelling on his leg.
After visiting the doctor’s office a number of times for the swelling, Keith started to feel a terrible pain. His parents then brought him to St. Vincent Hospital to figure out what was wrong with his leg.
At first, the nurses and doctors didn’t seem to be concerned, but Keith’s parents insisted. They were tired of seeing their usually energetic and beloved son in such agony with no sign of getting better.
Yet the medical professionals at St. Vincent Hospital, after determining that the swelling wasn’t cancer related, decided to send the boy home. It’s impossible to say what was going through these doctors’ minds when they made this decision, but everyone would soon regret it…
Having done some research after seeing what she believed were fang marks at the source of the swelling, Mandy, Keith’s mother, phoned the doctors and told them her theory: her son had been bitten by a spider.
After analyzing the bite marks on his leg, Mandy did some research to compare them to other spider bites. She was convinced that Keith was bitten by a brown recluse spider. Its bite can cause reactions that, according to the Billings Gazette, can “mimic several other types of medical issues” including lymphoma.
The only issue was that the brown recluse spider wasn’t native to Montana; it actually required warmer southern climates to live. Regardless, the debate was put on hold when, two days later, Keith’s condition worsened—and he was rushed back to the hospital.
Doctors tried to perform an emergency surgery, but it was too late; Keith, tragically, passed away. His family was in total shock. They couldn’t believe this was actually happening to them.
Just three days after he’d first fallen ill, Keith was gone. It was beyond anyone’s comprehension. His family moved through the day of his funeral in a fog of grief. Still they had to wonder: how had this happened? Was Mandy’s hunch right all along?
A forensic examination revealed that Keith was, indeed, killed from a spider bite—exactly as Mandy suspected. The bite poisoned his blood in a process called sepsis. Yet, there was more to it…
“I’ve received lots of calls; lots of confusion out there,” Laurie Kerzicnik, the urban insect specialist at Montana State University’s Schutter Diagnostic Laboratory, explained. “It’s extremely unlikely that any spider bite around here would be from a brown recluse.”
As was mentioned before, the brown recluse simply couldn’t survive in the Montana climate, which was far too cold. So, if a brown recluse didn’t cause Keith’s terrible fate, what was responsible?
For starters, Keith’s swelling was the result of a bacterial infection, which wouldn’t have been the result of a spider bite alone. Still, it’s possible that the infection began with a spider bite, with one culprit potentially being another infamous spider: the black widow.
It’s easy to come across these types of spiders if you spend a lot of time outdoors—much like Keith, who loved playing sports and being outside. Hikers and athletes can protect themselves by wearing socks, long sleeves, and long pants…
If you suspect that you’re going to be in an area where these spiders are prevalent, you must be aware of your surroundings. The clothes you wear can definitely help, but paying close attention to your environment in general is key.
Brown recluse spiders and black widows like to live in dark areas, especially piles of lumber. If you do get bitten, wash the affected area with hot soapy water and apply a damp, cold compress on top of the wound. Then seek medical attention immediately.
If you ever suspect that you’ve been bitten by a dangerous spider, particularly a brown recluse or black widow, the key is to act quickly; most of these bites aren’t fatal if treated quickly. It can make all the difference—something the Pierce family wished they knew.
Though Keith’s family experienced a great tragedy with the passing of their son, there was a bit of light. After the news broke, their community rallied around them to offer support. They even hosted a neighborhood event!
All told, $10,000 was raised at the community fundraiser, which was certainly a help to the Pierce family. Obviously, there was no making sense of this seemingly random loss, but hopefully it helped Keith’s family in their time of need, even in a small way.
What happened to Keith is absolutely tragic, especially because it was preventable and treatable. Hopefully, this story can serve as a warning to others—and maybe even save a life.
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