Avid Nags Head waterman dies after contracting bacterial infection in sound

By on July 25, 2023

Mike Gard.

Nags Head resident Michael “Mike” Gard, 71, a fondly remembered local business owner and avid waterman, died unexpectedly on July 21, following infection of a cut he got while handling a crab pot in the sound five days earlier.

While Dare County Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Sheila Davies said she could not confirm that the deceased individual was Gard for privacy reasons, the DHHS said it was made aware of a confirmed Vibrio bacteria case on July 20 and was notified of that person’s death on July 24—something that tracks with the Gard death and timeline.

The DHHS confirmed that another Vibrio case was reported July 25, although at this time, there is no fatality involved. As a result of these cases, Davies said her department was issuing a media release “on recreational water illnesses and preventative measures individuals can take to help prevent illness.” (How to Enjoy Water Activities Safely to Prevent Illness)

Gard’s family and friends discussed the tragedy with the Voice.

“The outcome they gave us was he had a very weak heart and it wasn’t able to compete with the infection,” said Kenny Gard, Mike Gard’s younger brother. “He’d had a stent in his heart since 2019.”

“If he was young and had a strong heart, I think he would have made it,” said Gard’s girlfriend Elaine Piddington. “It’s like a bad dream, it truly is, the worst dream I’ve had.”

“It made all his friends just stunned,” added Ronny Bennett. He’d regularly hunted and fished with Mike Gard, owner of Honey-Do Handyman Services, whom he called “a jack of all trades.”

Bennett and Mike Gard’s close friend Ted Moseley reported that the doctors said Gard had necrotizing fasciitis. That is “a severe infection in which the flesh around an open wound dies,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Gard’s friends and family said they were not sure of the name of the bacteria that caused his infection. Several bacteria species can cause necrotizing fasciitis, including Vibrio.

Over the past six years, only seven other Vibrio cases have been confirmed in Dare County, with another three “probable” cases. Monday’s reported case is the only fatality, according to Davies.

Vibrio is common in seawater, especially in warm, brackish waters, and Vibrio cases are expected every summer, Davies added.

“The majority of Vibrio infections occur from eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters,” she said. “Certain Vibrio species can also cause a skin infection when an open wound is exposed to salt water or brackish water.”

Vibrio is a required reportable disease in North Carolina, meaning it is tracked statewide, but community notification is not required nor common practice, Davies said in an email.

Following Gard’s death, Moseley posted a notice on Facebook about the bacteria from the sound causing his death “because I thought people ought to know about it.” Several other friends and family members had also posted on social media, first asking for prayers for his recovery and then announcing his death.

According to Piddington, she and Gard were moving her five crab pots from one location to another in Buzzard Bay—part of the Albemarle Sound—south of Colington Island, on Sunday, July 16. Gard scratched himself with a crab pot while putting it in the boat. About an hour later, well after the cut stopped bleeding, the two swam for a few minutes in the sound. They went home, showered and went to bed.

Piddington recounted that on Monday, Gard went to work, but didn’t feel well. He opted to wait to see a doctor, but when Piddington saw him that evening, she said he was “shaking like a leaf” and “from the ankle to the knee, it was red.” She sent a photo to his heart doctor and to his niece, who is an EMT. The niece asked when his last tetanus shot was, and he didn’t know, so she told him to go get one. Piddington took him to Outer Banks Health around 11:30 p.m., where he received a tetanus shot and antibiotics.

Tuesday morning, Piddington woke up around 6 a.m. and Gard was not doing well. Following an ambulance ride to Outer Banks Health, he was flown to the hospital in Greenville around 8:45 a.m.

“I got a call from the doctor saying, ‘Come on up,’” Kenny Gard recalled, and he went to Greenville on Tuesday afternoon. The chaplain told him that his brother was coherent when he first arrived, but within 30 minutes, “he went into septic shock…and never came out of it.” Following an unsuccessful surgery, Mike Gard was taken off life support on Friday morning, July 21, and passed away just hours later, around noon.

Kenny Gard said that 20-some years ago, he’d contracted two bacterial infections within a six month-period from being in the sound with scratches on his legs, with a very different outcome from his brother’s.

“Certainly we all miss him, and it’s hard to grasp how quickly it went and happened,” he noted.

As a child, Moseley vacationed in his aunt’s beach house on Soundside Road in Nags Head, which was the street where Gard grew up. They played together in the sound, and after high school, Moseley moved to the Outer Banks. “We did everything together, fished and hunted…we’ve taken some camping trips down to Cape Lookout,” he said.

Piddington said that her husband died of cancer eight years ago, and “I’d finally found love” with Gard. “We had only been together 10 weeks, but…it was like I knew him all my life kind of thing. It was the best 10 weeks of my life.”



Comments

  • Renee Descoteaux

    I’m heartbroken for Mike, Family and Elaine. I have no words other than
    “May you Rest In Peace my Friend”

    Tuesday, Jul 25 @ 6:49 pm
  • Seabound

    Thank you for this. His native Outer Banks roots went back to the original native Americans, he’d fill your ears with stories passed down for generations from his O’Neal and Midgett ancestors that would floor this bunch we have here now, if you are such to give a rip about what this place once was. Rest easy Mike and thank you.

    Tuesday, Jul 25 @ 7:36 pm
  • Smokey

    How heartbreaking. So sad for the family. Prayers.

    Tuesday, Jul 25 @ 8:24 pm
  • Joe Lupetin

    RIP . Mike ! A True Outer Banker !

    Tuesday, Jul 25 @ 8:39 pm
  • Dan

    Hindsight is always 20/20, but question: If an ER is in an town where lots of fishermen & crabbers and lots of others are among seawater & sound water, and if a patient presents with a mechanism of injury that is consistent with tetanus, another type of infection or Vibrio, wouldn’t the meds test for vibrio right out of the box, especially knowing the cardiac history of the patient?

    Wednesday, Jul 26 @ 8:15 am
  • Greg

    My grandson cut his head surfing in the ocean a few years ago and we took him to the OBX Medical Suites across the street from the hospital. After stitching up the wound he was given a shot of antibiotic as a precaution against Vibrio. Why is this not common practice at the hospiyal? Mike might be alive today if he had gone across the street.

    Thursday, Jul 27 @ 11:30 am
  • WindyBill

    All sympathies to Mikes’ family and friends. Living with nature is beautiful even with its risks. To the Dare County Health Dept: Perhaps you could request the stte to regularly test this area to see if Vibrio finds this area near a sewer plant outfall to be a good habitat.

    Thursday, Jul 27 @ 1:27 pm
  • Michael Burch

    A wonderful person helped me learn to surf in the ocean and and sand surf Jockeys Ridge. where I took a ride one night with Mike and Ted Mosley in Mikes jeep to the top of the back side and got stuck, Left it and Mike drove it down the next morning . I was a ocean life Guard in the 70`s and the best Gard`s I ever knew was Mike and his family. Rest in peace. The Lord has a wonderful new addition in heaven! Love you brother!

    Friday, Jul 28 @ 6:25 pm