It was September 2022, and my husband Beau, then 28, and our girls Skylah, four, Willow, three, and Piper, four months, we were holidaying in Woodgate, near Bundaberg, Qld with my mum, Tania.
Every year we spent the school holidays at my aunt Roxanne and uncle Terry’s beach house. My cousin Nicole, her hubby Antony, and their two-year-old, Charlotte, were here too, as were my dad Adrian, and my little sister Sienna, 11.
A week into our break, the boys and girls were fighting it out in our annual fishing competition.
Now, a few hours in, around lunchtime, the girls had reeled in a few small ones and the blokes hadn’t caught any!
'I dropped to the wet sand in agony.'
I was knee-deep in the water while Beau was fishing near the kids who were playing on the shoreline.
‘How are you going, Mum?’ I called out. She was fishing off a sandbank about six metres from me.
‘I caught something!’ she said, reeling in a baby stingray the size of my hand!
As it squirmed on the line, we tried to ease it carefully off the hook, but couldn’t get it free.
So Dad grabbed some pliers, and used them to flick the stingray off. It landed back in the sea and swam away. Moments later, I’d re-baited my line on the shore. And just as my feet touched the water, I felt an excruciatingly painful shock reverberate through my left leg.
Letting out an ear-piercing scream, I dropped to the wet sand in agony.
‘Mum!’ I yelled.
Looking down, I saw that the stingray’s barb had speared my heel. I kicked my leg frantically till the barb slid out of my foot, and the stingray darted off.
'My toes were double their size!'
Antony called triple-0, then Beau and Dad carried me 10 metres to the car, so we could meet the ambo at the road five minutes away, as we’d driven our cars onto the beach.
Beau stayed with the kids, who were distraught.
When the ambulance arrived, paramedics poured hot water from a flask onto my tiny but painful wound to inactivate any venom and help to relieve my pain. The hot water helped instantly, but as soon as they stopped pouring it, I was in agony again.
In Emergency, an X-ray showed that none of the stingray barb had been left behind in my foot.
‘It’ll heal over time,’ a doctor told me.
Given pain meds, I was discharged that evening on crutches.
Me, Beau and the kids left the beach house the next day to go home.
Two days later, my foot had swollen so much my toes were double their size. And I was still in agony.
Going to the GP, I was given an ultrasound.
‘You’ve completely severed your Achilles tendon and shouldn’t be walking on it,’ the doc said.
I was booked in for surgery to repair it later that week.
When I came to after, the surgeon said, ‘The stingray’s barb went through your foot, severed your Achilles tendon and hit your bone.’
Wow, I can’t imagine what a full-size stingray could do, I thought.
'I was relieved to come home to my loving family.'
Thankfully I was able to go home the next day with my leg in a cast.
A fortnight on, the cast was replaced with a moon boot, and I was able to hobble around on crutches.
I was so grateful to have my grandma Rosie come and live with us for a while to help around the house. And so thankful for Mum, who’d drop off the girls to daycare.
Beau was very supportive too. And so were our kids.
‘Here’s Piper’s nappy, Mummy,’ Willow would say and Skylah asked if I wanted water.
About six weeks post op, I started intensive physio.
Frustratingly, in early February I had to have a second surgery due to an infection in my foot.
After staying in hospital for three days, I was relieved to come home to my loving family.
And in April, my boot was off for good!
I’ve only really been able to run around with the kids now five, four, and 20 months, since October last year, and there’s still pain when I put too much weight on my foot.
But I have made so much progress since my accident, and never take a day for granted. My 10-centimetre scar is a great warning for others.
Although a stingray’s venom is usually only lethal if the puncture wound is in the chest, abdomen or neck, stepping on that barb has had such long-lasting consequences for me and my family.
I still haven’t gone swimming again, but have tentatively dipped my feet into the ocean.
Every time we go to the beach now, I make sure to take a flask of hot water with us, just in case this ever happens again.
You just never know when it might be your unlucky day!