Stingray injures Palmetto boy

MANATEE -- When the doctors at All-Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg are through analyzing the barb they surgically removed from the bottom of a Palmetto boy's foot Saturday, they have orders not to destroy it.

J.D. DeLesline, 11, "wants it back," his mother Monica DeLesline said Monday.

J.D. stepped on the stingray around 2:30 p.m. Saturday while thigh-deep in the water at Fort DeSoto and came away impaled by a long, flat barb.

Surgery was necessary because a piece of the five-inch barb had broken off and was wedged in between the foot bones, said DeLesline, who is the assistant principal at Braden River High School.

"It jabbed into my foot and I just went down," J.D. said. "I didn't hurt then. But then I looked at my foot and freaked out. I crawled to shore and yelled for my dad, who was nearby floating in an inner tube"

John DeLesline put his son in a wagon and pulled him toward the family's brand new 35-foot Jayco Class Precept RV, which was being field-tested Saturday for its first big trip, up to Washington, New York and Maine later this summer.

"I thought they were punking me," Monica DeLesline said. "Then I heard J.D.'s screams."

Stingrays are not considered aggressive, Hayley Rutger, a Mote Marine Laboratory spokeswoman, said Monday from Sarasota.

"Stinging is a defense mechanism they use to protect themselves," Rutger said. "So, naturally, it's best to take precautions to avoid stepping on them and setting off this defense."

Because some species of stingray bury themselves in the sand, beachgoers should do the 'Stingray Shuffle,' shuffling their feet as they walk in the water instead of lowering each foot onto the sand.

"It's good to be aware of stingrays during the summer beach season, particularly into late summer and early fall," Rutger said. "Local species of bottom-dwelling rays give birth to their young, or pups, around June and July, and those pups tend to spend their first summer of life in the surf zone, where they feed.

By the end of the summer, they're the size of a dish and as the weather cools, they tend to move away from the surf, she added.

"A stingray's barb carries venom that is largely a protein-based toxin, which causes great pain in mammals and may also alter heart rate and respiration," Rutger said.

J.D., who will be in the sixth grade at Johnson Middle School in August, was fine Monday although tired of being in a wheelchair. Doctors are expected to remove the drainage tube in his foot this week and then he can begin putting light pressure on it, his mother said.

A stingray can't use its spine as a projectile, but can lose its spine when it injures another creature. There is a relatively weak connection between the spine and the tail, Rutger said.

"The spine has anchor-like teeth, which tend to lodge in tissue like a series of arrowheads or fishhook barbs," Rutger said. "The spine is only capable of injuring a predator or human that is within the range of its tail."

For the remainder of the summer the doctors want J.D. in a closed-toe shoe, DeLesline said.

"He's not a happy camper as far as being laid up goes," his mom added.

J.D., who fractured his left foot and was in a cast for most of last summer, stayed overnight Saturday at All-Children's so doctors could do several rounds of IV injections.

J.D. was placed on a floor with a stingray motif on all the walls.

"Really?" J.D. said to his mom with a look of ultimate insult.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.