Bebe McElroy poses with a redfish she caught

Early-detection treatment may have saved Houma angler

When Winona McElroy, known by most people simply as “Bebe,” posts pictures on Facebook, you can take to the bank you’re going to observe and read a few things concerning her page.
From her posts you’ll find she gets all giddy when it comes to catching fish. Secondly, she’s going to add all kinds of hilarious Emojis. And three, there will always be a selfie with her holding a fish to prove what she’s catching.
There’s no doubt, the petite senior from Cocodrie puts on quite a show for friends on social media. What’s more, it’s all in good fun. But, what happened to Bebe during a fishing trip in late October could have cost her her life.
The night before Bebe and her husband Vic McElroy were watching a news program on television concerning a problem with scabies in a New Orleans school. The thought of it was enough to give her the heebie-jeebies where the next morning she was scratching her knuckle between her index and middle fingers on her right hand while seeing Vic off to work.
Jokingly she said to Vic, “I must be thinking about scabies and those poor school kids down in New Orleans.”
The two laughed about it only for a minute she says, because Vic had to leave for work and Bebe had a boat waiting for her at their dock. One of their friends was down from Tennessee to do a little fishing and she was going along.
The anglers were using live minnows on this trip. Bebe, accustomed to using a small dip net on her boat to catch minnows in a bait-bucket, on this particular day wasn’t in her boat. Instead, she had to reach into a little ice cream bucket her friend set her up with and grab the minnows.
In her own boat, Bebe says she always carries a jug of freshwater, chlorine towelettes and a clean towel for washing her hands. But, over the course of five hours between 6:00 and 11:00 A.M. she went without.
According to Bebe, they did catch fish. In fact, the 70 year old angler says she even had pictures showing her posing, while holding them.
The first thing Bebe did when she got home was wash her hands. It was while washing she noticed that her right hand was a little swollen. What’s more, afterwards, by the time she had fixed herself something to eat, her hand had swollen to the point where when she made a fist you could no longer see the knuckles on her hand.
Additionally, she had come down with a fever and didn’t feel well. Taking a picture of her hand, she sent it on her cell phone to her husband Vic telling him her hand was swollen and she didn’t feel good.
Immediately her husband Vic called from his job site and said to his wife, “Bebe, you get in your Jeep and you go to the emergency room. I’m telling you, you’ve got something, somehow, from that water. I’ve seen it in guys before. Go to the emergency room now. Promise me you’re going.”
Leaving her house, it took her 40-minutes to get to Terrebonne General in Houma, where she was seen immediately. By the time she got there her fever had gone from 100.3 at her home just an hour earlier to now 103.5.
There was no trauma, open wounds, or injury to her hand. The ER physician became baffled trying to understand what caused Bebe’s condition.
After asking her what she did and with Bebe being unable to recall anything, she was diagnosed with cellulitis, placed on an IV drip of Antibiotics for a couple of hours, given a prescription for oral antibiotics, told to see her family physician and sent home feeling somewhat better. But, they cautioned her, if she got worse to come back to the emergency room.
As fate would have it, because she had blood work done for a wellness examination two weeks prior to her condition, Bebe had a scheduled doctor’s appointment at 9:00 A.M. the next day.
That evening, when her husband Vic got home, he wasn’t happy the hospital hadn’t kept her. But, knowing she had a doctor’s appointment the next morning he was confident her physician in Houma, Dr. Cinnater, would admit her to the hospital. In fact, Vic contacted his son Alfred to take his mother the next day under the guise they could go out to lunch together after her appointment.
Bebe said, “Vic called my son Alfred and told him, ‘Your momma is sick – really sick – she’s going to try to drive herself to the doctor. I need you to come get her. Tell her that you want to bring her and that ya’ll were going to lunch after. But, don’t worry about bringing your momma home, because she’s not coming back home. They’re going to keep her.’”
Once Bebe’s physician saw her hand and called his partner, Dr. Dupont, in to help confirm, she was admitted into the hospital with Vibrio a dangerous and deadly bacterial infection sometimes called flesh-eating bacteria.
“They kept asking me, ‘What did you do? When did this start?’ And, I couldn’t think of anything. I just told them, ‘Ya’ll, I was fishing. I was fine. It just started swelling,’” Bebe said.
The two physicians also called in Dr. Mary Eschete, an infectious disease specialist to assist them with Bebe’s treatment. As it turned out Dr. Eschete and Bebe had gone through grade school together and were friends knowing her by her maiden name Mahler.
It was Eschete who came to call on Bebe the night she was admitted and picked her brain trying to learn how she came down with Vibrio. That’s when it dawned on Bebe she had been scratching her knuckles and when she placed her had in the bait-bucket filled with bayou water much of the morning. The bacteria had its opening.
“She told me, ‘Bebe, that’s all it takes. You don’t have to have an open wound. When you scratched your hand, you gave it a place to enter’” Bebe said.
Bebe McElroy spent seven days in the hospital being treated for Vibrio. It wasn’t until the swelling went down on her hand and arm and she was pain free, when she was finally released. What saved her was early diagnosis and early treatment.
Concerning our Louisiana coastal waters, Eschete says, “Vibrio is out there. It has been there. And it will always be out there.” As such, anglers should take precautions carrying a gallon or two of freshwater to wash their hands in, anti-microbial soap, and chlorine or anti-microbial towelettes in their boats. A gallon of 10 parts to 1 chlorine bleach and water is also a good agent to wash with after handling fish and crustaceans.

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