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Continued: Rabies kills Monticello man bitten by bat

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 24, 2007 - 8:05 AM

Randy Hertwig was born and reared in the Alexandria area north-central Minnesota. At 22, he married Michele Ward. He began working a few years later as a machinist for Buhler of Plymouth, where he would work for the next 20 years. In his spare time, Hertwig loved to be outdoors with his son, Jess, and daughter, Summer. They boated, snowmobiled, hunted and romped with the dogs, Aly and Gracie.

The week of Sept. 17, according to the family's entries on the CaringBridge website, Randy Hertwig put off going to the doctor about the odd feeling in his thumb and index finger. Throughout the week, the feeling spread into his hand. By Thursday, he couldn't lift his arm.

There were trips to the doctors in Monticello and tests, and then, on Saturday morning, Hertwig landed in a St. Cloud emergency room, his heart pounding more than 120 beats a minute.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) pictures showed his spinal cord inflamed. Physicians wondered if it could be a virus, or maybe multiple sclerosis. Hertwig had shooting pains in his arm, his face was turning numb and his balance was off, so walking was tough. Soon, so was talking.

By Oct. 3, it was hard for Hertwig to get up, and he barely moved his legs. The little movement he had in his left hand was gone, Summer Hertwig wrote on the website. Three days later, and the doctors had placed a feeding tube in him. A ventilator helped him breathe.

The doctors continued to run test after test, They exchanged plasma in his blood to help with clotting. Nurses kept checking his dilated pupils for a sluggish response, but didn't always get one. Last Tuesday, one more in a series of MRIs came back with worrisome findings.

The doctor "asked if Randy had been bitten by a bat recently," Michele wrote on "In August, Randy did grab a bat out of a cabin but said that he didn't think it broke through his skin. The doctors were going to do a skin biospy and another lumbar puncture."

His family learned that there was no cure for the deadly virus, once symptoms start. It interferes with the communications channels in the brain, and progresses quickly to coma and death.

The rabies diagnosis was confirmed on Thursday.

Summer Hertwig later wrote that at 12:01 a.m Saturday, "We let God take Dad."

Though he couldn't talk, and the doctors said he was in a coma, his family believes that Randy Hertwig sent a final message. Summer wrote:

"Everyone was in the room, and Dad gave us one more sign that he loved us and that he was going to miss us just as much as he did. Most of us saw it, and couldn't believe it. He shed a tear, out of his left eye."

Investigation underway

The state Health Department is working with health care facilities where Hertwig was given care to evaluate whether any workers may have been exposed to his saliva and need treatment to prevent a rabies infection, officials said Tuesday.

Sheftel said she hopes that people who learn that a man has died of the disease will heed the warning. "Bats are found all over the state of Minnesota," she said. "It doesn't at all matter what county this particular cabin was in."

Last year, she said, the state tested 482 bat brains and found 16 had rabies. That's 3.3 percent. So far this year, the state has tested 406 bats, with 13 positive for rabies.

The treatment for rabies, if administered early, is nearly 100 percent effective, Sheftel said. The incubation for human rabies can range tremendously from person to person, from seven days to seven years, but it's typically four to 12 weeks, she said

"We really want to get this message out," Sheftel said. "Once symptoms start, it's too late."

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