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Stingray Barb Pierces Heart of Florida Man

October 20, 2006|Brian Haas | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Doctors pulled a 2 1/2 -inch stingray barb from James Bertakis' heart Thursday, but the 81-year-old man's condition remained perilous.

After five hours of surgery, Bertakis improved to critical but stable condition, said Dr. Eugene Costantini of Broward General Medical Center.

"His heart is functioning well; his lungs are functioning well," Costantini said.

Bertakis, of Lighthouse Point, was boating on the Intracoastal Waterway on Wednesday afternoon when a 3-foot-wide stingray burst from the water and stuck his chest with its barb. Bertakis was able to pilot the boat to land and call 911.

Costantini said doctors repaired puncture wounds in Bertakis' heart from the barb, which entered the left side, pierced the septum separating the two chambers of the heart and then bore through the right side. Doctors saw the barb sticking out of his heart when they began surgery, Costantini said, and pulled it through.

The victim's son, Jim Bertakis, said: "My father's got a way to go. We do believe in the power of prayer. He's a fighter and he's going to get through it."

The parallels to the death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin last month weren't lost on James Bertakis' relatives -- who extended their sympathies to Irwin's widow Thursday. The TV naturalist was killed when a stingray barb pierced his heart as he swam off Australia.

Spotted eagle rays grow to more than 8 feet and weigh up to 500 pounds, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Robert Cowen, professor and chair of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami, said those rays are common in South Florida but rarely swim near humans.

Most injuries occur when people step on small stingrays that frequent shallow water.

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