‘I thought I was going to die’: Kayaker bitten by brown recluse spider in Virginia


CAMPBELL COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Of the possible dangers on a kayaking trip, a spider bite likely isn’t at the top of the list for most people.

For a Campbell County, Virginia, woman, however, a bite from a brown recluse spider during a 10-hour kayaking trip along the Staunton River in Virginia left her hospitalized for nearly a week.

Sherri Maddox said she floated from the Long Island area to Brookneal, making a few stops along the way. Maddox said she felt a bite on her upper lip at some point in the journey but didn’t think much of it at first.

When it didn’t improve the next day, Maddox went to the hospital and received antibiotics. At that point, she recalled, she still wasn’t too worried about the bite.

However, it got worse, and so did her fear of how dangerous it could be.

“I cried. It was terrible. I thought I was going to die, you know, it was a lot of pain,” Maddox explained.

“I’m almost 50, and I’ve been floating in the Staunton River since I could swim, 6 years old,” Maddox said. “I was just praying I wasn’t going to die because I hear horror stories, and you look on the internet and see all this stuff.”

Two days after the bite, doctors determined that it was from a brown recluse spider. Lynchburg General Hospital was full at the time, so she was sent to a hospital in Bedford. She said she’s thankful for the doctors and nurses there who worked to help her.

“I hallucinated a lot and thought it was because of the pain meds they gave me, but I heard from several different people that that’s what the spider venom does,” said Maddox.

Her hallucinations came and went for the first five days of her hospitalization.

“I just thought I was at my mom’s house or my sister’s house, and then I’d get out and go look out the hospital room and realized I was in the hospital,” Maddox explained.

Eventually, the swelling went down and, even though she’s still on antibiotics, she is expected to be OK.

(Photo: Courtesy of Sherri Maddox)

Lynchburg entomologist David Moore said brown recluse spiders are typically found in the eastern part of Tennessee, but he wouldn’t be surprised if they made their way elsewhere.

“You’re typically going to find brown recluse around rocks, piles of inner tubes, utility boxes, piles, under bark, and other areas,” said Moore. “Inside a home, they like to be in undisturbed areas, so like in boxes, among some papers.”

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According to Moore, the spiders’ legs can be a few inches long, and you can come across them around Christmas time when unpacking decorations from boxes that have been sitting in a basement or attic for a while.

If you think an unfamiliar insect has bitten you, Moore said, the best thing to do is capture it, dead or alive, and bring it with you to a nearby hospital because it’s easier for doctors to treat a bite when they can identify the insect.

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