Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Thank You, Stranger: A Rochester man's brush with death from a black widow bite

a man climbs rocks
Dave Brandt bouldering in California.
Courtesy of Dave Brandt

In the latest episode of Thank You, Stranger, our series where Minnesotans get to tell stories of strangers that brightened their lives, MPR News Producer Ellen Finn talked to a Rochester rock climber who had a near-death experience.

a squished black widow inside a shoe
A look inside Dave Brandt's shoe - and the squished black widow that bit him.
Courtesy of Dave Brandt

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] [CATHY WURZER] Time for another episode of Thank You, Stranger. That's our series where Minnesotans get to tell stories of strangers that brighten their lives. Our producer Ellen Finn talked to a Rochester rock climber who had a near-death experience.


ELLEN FINN: Dave has been rock climbing since 1973. And in 1998, he opened southern Minnesota's first outdoor climbing gym in Rochester. Dave and his wife were proud to create community throughout southern Minnesota, and all over the world, through their rock climbing business.

So a few years ago, when Dave's climbing buddy invited him out to a popular climbing town in California to work on a construction project, Dave hit the road right away. He drove from Rochester, Minnesota to Bishop, California. And after a few months of working and climbing, Dave was ready to head back to the Midwest. That's when things took a turn.

DAVE BRANDT: I was literally packing my van up that morning. And I had pulled on a pair of running shoes that I hadn't worn in ages. And, since I wasn't working, I didn't put my work boots on or anything. And I didn't even bother to put socks on because it was nice. It's warm. It's the desert.

And I just start to not feel good. And it wasn't a specific thing. I just, like, don't feel good. And I went back in to the place we were working and laid down. Ah. Well, this'll pass. And I got up a little while later, and it was not passing. About that same time, I'm like, I think I need to go to the hospital.

ELLEN FINN: Dave's friend raced him to the emergency room.

DAVE BRANDT: They took my blood pressure and admitted me immediately because it was really high. They started doing some basic tests and things, and stuff just isn't really making sense. It's rapidly progressing. I've never experienced pain like I had in the ER room. I mean, I can't even describe it. It was full body. They were pumping morphine into me, and it had no effect.

ELLEN FINN: The doctors working with him were still puzzled. They did a CT scan, but that didn't check out. When his blood pressure got dangerously high, they admitted him into the ICU.

DAVE BRANDT: The scariest part was having doctors come in and just kind of shrug and go, we don't know what's wrong with you. We just don't know.

ELLEN FINN: That's when it really hit Dave he might not make it through whatever this was. The hours, and then the days, ticked by.

DAVE BRANDT: One of the nurses was a guy named Ty. He's a climber, and he's in Bishop doing traveling nurse stuff. And I just felt like there was this kind of this whole connection, almost, like, through my whole life that just sort of had an apex at that point.

Ty came in on his shift, and he's like, I was doing some research last night. He didn't have to do that. Just going above and beyond, trying to figure something out. And he said, the one thing I came up with was it could be neurotoxin.

And, as soon as he said that, even in the state I was in, which wasn't good, I got to thinking about those shoes I put on, those orange Nike free running shoes.

ELLEN FINN: Dave called his friend and asked him to go look in his old orange sneakers.

DAVE BRANDT: And he's like holy [BLEEP]. There's a big dead black widow in it. Like, OK. Now this all makes sense.

ELLEN FINN: After the doctors heard Ty's theory, they treated Dave for the black widow bite, and he quickly recovered.

DAVE BRANDT: What really impressed me was this young nurse, Ty, would, on his own, just be noodling this around, like, this doesn't make sense. Like, what? This has got to-- we have to figure something out here. You know, otherwise, I would never have known.

It's still kind of emotional, thinking about it. I got really close to dying. [LAUGHING]

People I didn't know, that just took really good care of me and treated me exceptionally well. And I'm eternally grateful for that.

ELLEN FINN: And if Dave saw Ty now?

DAVE BRANDT: Give him a big hug, just give him a big hug, and thank him. It's people who care about what they do, leave the space that we once occupied a little bit better than when we got there. I'm just eternally grateful for it.


CREW: Wow. That was Minnesota Now producer Ellen Finn, for our series called Thank You, Stranger. To see a photo of Dave, and that spider that bit him, and other photos, go to nprnews.org.

If you want to share a story of kindness from a stranger, or even a friend, for our series, we want to hear it. You can call us at 612-361-1252 or email us at minnesotanow@npr.org.

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