HOGWEED CAUSED ‘SHARK BITE’ ON DAD’S LEG
T HESE horrific scars make it look like dad Nathan Davies was bitten by a shark.
But in reality, the 33-yearold estate agent was patched up by surgeons after coming into contact with common hogweed.
The father, from Ammanford, was hospitalised after blisters caused by the weed became severely infected.
He suffered horrendous injuries and spent four weeks in hospital, undergoing five painful operations.
Doctors told Nathan he risked losing the muscle from his calf, as the infection had started to spread.
“It’s the closest anybody could have come to losing their leg without actually losing it,” Nathan said. “If the infection had reached my calf, the doctors would have been looking at taking a part of the muscle away.”
Nathan’s ordeal started when he was gardening with his father in May – when temperatures soared to the high twenties across Wales. After coming into contact with common hogweed, Nathan – who was wearing shorts at the time – noticed blisters starting to appear on his leg.
Less than a week later, he collapsed in agony and was immediately rushed to A&E in Llanelli.
Nathan spent around four weeks in hospital, undergoing a number of operations to open his leg from the knee cap to the ankle bone.
His injuries were also further complicated by subcutaneous emphysema – when gas or air becomes trapped under a cut or wound.
“All the operations were the same – opening up the wound and leaving it open to clean it,” Nathan said.
“One of the worst things was that they kept cancelling my operations – meaning I couldn’t see my little boy.
“I’d be prepared for an op – go nil by mouth for 24 hours, only for it to be cancelled at the final hour because they had run out of time.
“I lost around a stone and a half in weight because of it.”
Due to the severity of his injury, Nathan was left unable to walk unaided and had to rely heavily on the use of crutches for several months following the incident.
But one of the most painful parts of the whole ordeal, according to Nathan, was having the stitches in his leg removed – which he says were as thick as “tennis racket strings”.
“It was absolutely horrendous having them taken out. I’d never seen stitches so thick in my life.
“I didn’t have any anaesthetic and the nurse had to use tweezers to pull them out one by one – there were 24 of them. It was horrific.”
Another big struggle for Nathan was not being able to care for his young son.
“It was tough. Getting home after the hospital was the worst part – I couldn’t do anything for myself.
“I couldn’t even shower myself, let alone help to shower the baby or do all the stuff I loved doing with him.
“My family helped me and they were brilliant,” Nathan said.
“They would come up and cook for me and take care of the baby.
“They helped get me back up on my feet, until I could walk by myself.”
Nathan says he’s “completely recovered” from his ordeal now, but says his legs still get sore and he has to be careful with some physical activities.
He’s also been left with a huge scar on his leg – which he says looks almost like a “shark bite”.
“Emotionally, I’m quite a tough person – I’ve had a lot to deal with in my life.
“But it has stopped me from doing anything physical.
“I was a proper gym-goer before and played a lot of rugby and I wanted to be able to go back to that – but I can’t. If I stretch my leg too much, for example in the car, I can feel it pulling.
“So even though I’m well now, I can’t do any sport or physical contact – it’s too much.
“But everything is getting back to normal – I’ve learnt how to walk again and I can kick a football with my son.
“I appreciate everything so much more. It was horrible feeling like half a person.
“My mind wanted to be able to do everything but my body just couldn’t – all because of a plant.”
Earlier this year, Nathan wanted to tell his story in an attempt to warn others about the dangers of the plant, which can be found along footpaths and riverbanks in most of the UK.
His story was highlighted by Carwyn Templeton, who works for South Wales Knotweed Removal.
And Nathan says he’s been contacted by, and subsequently helped, a number of people and businesses since his story went online.
“I wanted to raise awareness. I don’t want adults to go through what I went through, let alone any kids.”
Common hogweed belongs to the same family as cow parsley and giant hogweed – currently dubbed “the most dangerous plant in Britain”.
The plant is common in herbaceous places, along roads, in hedges, meadows and woods, especially in mountain areas. It also prefers moist, nitrogen-rich soils.
Its sap contains chemicals which can react with light when in contact with human skin and can cause blistering.
But be sure not to mistake common hogweed for its big brother giant hogweed. Giant hogweed can grow up to five metres tall, has a thick green stem and white flowers clustered in an umbrella-shaped head that is up to 80cm in diameter.
But the leaves of common hogweed are generally smaller, softer, less shiny, and more rounded, but you will find examples with very serrated leaves too.
“Few are aware the plant has a toxic sap, which when it comes in contact with bare skin, and is exposed to sunlight, can cause severe blistering and reddening,” Carwyn said.
“The simple remedy is to wear suitable clothing such as trousers and long sleeve tops.
“Common hogweed has a bigger, nastier brother, namely giant hogweed which fortunately, is rare throughout Wales.
“Nonetheless, common hogweed grows in abundance just about anywhere.”
Nathan Davies and, above and right, his injury caused by hogweed