Park Rapids veterinarian's hospitalization likely due to rare spider bite

Kal Handyside ended up at CHI St. Joseph’s Health in Park Rapids last week following an unusual reaction that may have been caused by a brown recluse spider.

The brown recluse is a venomous spider and may have been the cause of area veterinarian Kal Handyside's mysterious bite. The spiders are known for hiding in boxes and furniture, and the veterinary clinic gets packages from all over the country. (Adobe Stock)
Sari ONeal/pimmimemom -

He and his wife, Amanda, took over as owners of Back Roads Veterinary Clinic at its new location near Park Rapids this spring.

“We’re not 100 percent sure it was the brown recluse spider, because we never found the spider, but that’s what I believe it most likely was,” Kal said.

Brown recluse spiders are not native to Minnesota, but are found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.

According to Wikipedia, these spiders “hitchhike'' by hiding in furniture, boxes and other items moved from infested structures.

“We think it could possibly have come in one of our packages,” he said. “For the vet clinic, we get stuff from all over the U.S. It’s creepy to know something like that could happen.”


Following a bite by this spider, a condition called loxoscelism develops.The area becomes dusky and a shallow open sore forms as the skin around the bite dies, which is called necrosis. This rare condition is hard to diagnose and uncommon in states where the spider does not normally live, like Minnesota.

The bite

Handyside said he didn’t feel a bite, but last Wednesday evening when he was done working he noticed an inflamed red spot on his leg that itched, and made an appointment to get it checked out the next morning. He thought it might have been caused by a tick bite or a skin infection.

“By then, the red spot had grown significantly and there were two dead necrotic spots the size of a penny on my leg,” he said. “The tissue had turned black.”

He was given an antibiotic, but the necrotic spots continued to grow, reaching the size of a quarter by Thursday night.

“And the red spot had grown to the size of a softball,” he said. “It was painful, and I had body aches and a 103-degree fever. That’s when we went to the ER here in Park Rapids.”


Handyside was admitted to the hospital Thursday night, July 15, where he stayed until Monday, July 19.

“On Sunday, they did surgery to cut out the black, necrotic areas and put a drain in,” he said.

“After the surgery, it quit growing, and by Monday, the red spot that had been growing on my leg started shrinking and I felt better. The weird part was that after surgery, there was no pain where the black tissue was because the venom likely killed most of the nerves in that area. That’s the thing that most pointed to it being a spider bite.”


He said cultures from his blood and from the skin samples from the surgery came back negative. “They couldn’t test for the spider venom though,” he said.


Handyside said the area where they cut is already healing and looking much better. “In some cases, people need a skin graft if they have more of a reaction and more of their skin dies,” he said. “You have to put something over to cover the giant wound that can appear.”

He said he is doing wound care at home to keep it clean and dry while going about his work, so it doesn’t become infected.

After closing the clinic for a week, he said things are pretty much back to normal.

“It was a little bit stressful for me and my family, and we’re happy everything turned out OK,” he said.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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