It would be hard to imagine a Manatee or Sarasota fisherman ever casting a line without wearing sun or safety glasses or making sure they have disability insurance at work after hearing about Kory Williams’ encounter with the spines of a catfish.
Late on June 20, Williams, a 29-year-old Bradenton resident who is lot technician at Drive Time, pulled a catfish via rod and reel up from the darkness of Lido Beach in Sarasota where he was fishing with his brother-in-law, Brandon Lunde, and several other friends.
Williams had been handed the rod of one of his fellow fishermen for a moment while the fisherman went to grab a blue crab.
Williams felt a tug and gave the rod a mighty jerk thinking he was setting a hook. Actually, his friend’s fish had already put up its fight and was just waiting to be hauled in.
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The mighty jerk propelled the weakened fish right out of the water and right into his face, sending one of its inch-long spines directly into his right eyeball.
Now, two-and-a-half months later, Williams has gone through three surgeries and has another one coming up to remove a cataract on his injured eye caused by pressure. He has been out of work all that time.
Williams still can’t drive or even do activity that even results in a tiny sweat, which prevents him from going back to Drive Time right away, where he drove used cars around the lot or even out of town. His day-to-day activity is designed to keep his head still to help the retina heal. It might be weeks before that will change.
“It’s time I get out of the house and go make some money for my family,” he said. “This has been crazy.”
He has been told his eyesight will come back, but it will be about on the level of a 56-year-old man.
His take-away from the experience?
“Always be aware of your surroundings,” Williams said. “And definitely get short- or long-term disability if your work offers it.”
Emergency surgery at 2 a.m.
Staunching the blood flow from his right eye with a rag, Williams was immediately driven to the nearest hospital by his fellow fishermen.
“My brother called me and said, ‘Kory got hit by a fish. You have to come to Sarasota Memorial,’ ” Brooke Williams, Kory’s wife, recalled a few days ago. “I’m thinking. ‘What? Hit by a fish? That’s crazy.’ ”
The hospital’s on-call surgeon, Dr. Peter Livingston of Bradenton, was called in and Williams had surgery at 2 a.m. the next morning to repair a torn retina, his wife said.
Livingston repaired tears in Williams’ eye both inside and outside over the next three hours. He was also given antibiotics for infection.
But Williams was not out of the woods. Over the next weeks, Livingston checked on his patient and noticed his retina was still trying to detach, leading to several more surgeries, Brooke Williams said.
While each surgery held the promise of ending his ordeal, apparently it wasn’t until after the last one, called a “surgical buckle,” that Williams finally got his first good news.
“In the buckle surgery they lift the muscles of the eye, place a rubber band-like buckle there, then put the muscles back over the buckle,” Brooke Williams said.
“The doctor just told us today that his retina is finally stable,” Brooke Williams added Wednesday.
Williams’ friends and family members have been stunned at how much one catfish spine can do to turn a person’s life upside down.
“Everyone who hears his story is amazed,” Brooke Williams said last week. “You never hear about a catfish in the eye.”
Hats off to modern medicine in ‘unusual’ case
Someone getting a catfish spine in the eye is an extremely unusual injury, said Dr. Joshua Mali, a retinal surgeon at The Eye Associates, 6002 Pointe West Blvd., Bradenton.
“While I have seen eye injuries involving fish, they are most commonly fish hooks penetrating the eye or fishing weights striking the eye,” Mali said.
But, thanks to modern surgical techniques, retina surgeons can deal with it, said Mali who has, in his career, removed a nail from inside a retina, a piece of glass that had penetrated an eye and a BB pellet from an eye.
“I believe the eye is the most delicate organ in the body, but it is also the most resilient,” Mali added.
One of the most significant techniques to fix a damaged retina is the buckle surgery that Williams had, Mali said.
“A scleral buckle is a tiny, flexible silicone band, similar in appearance to a belt buckle, that is wrapped around the outside wall of the eye to gently indent the sclera so that the wall of the eye is supported and pushed closer to the retina in order to close the retinal tear,” Mali said.
Wear glasses when fishing, experts say
Mali said that above and beyond his obvious advice that fisherman should wear sunglasses while fishing to protect against flying fish, he recommends that those who have just one good eye also wear prescription safety glasses made from a polycarbonate material that also has side shields.
“Studies have shown that people with one good eye will turn their heads to the side of their good eye if they were to hear a loud sound,” Mali said. “Thus, if that loud sound happens to be a projectile object, their good eye will be at risk for injury.”
Gary Morse has been an employee of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for roughly 40 years and although he has never heard of someone getting a catfish spine in the eye, he has had catfish spines in his hands.
“I’ve been stung by catfish,” said Morse, a commission spokesman. “They can really hurt you if you don’t have them well under control. They can also cause infection.”
Morse’s advice for fisherman and hunters is to protect their eyes at all cost.
“Eye protection can go a long way to prevent such injuries,” Morse said. “I wear polarized eye protection. Others wear safety glasses”
Williams’ family and friends have started a Go-Fund-Me account at https://www.gofundme.com/2j3negxr to help with the family’s bills.