Something’s Fishy: Bare Feet, a Dead Sea Creature , and an Injury Story That's Hard to Believe.

As Leah Jablonski takes on her first day at Indiana University’s 71st annual High School Journalism Institute, she remarks that fewer than twenty-four hours ago she was in Gulf Shores, Alabama for her family’s annual summer trip. She spent 10 days hanging out with her family, enjoying the beach and souvenir shopping. However, her trips haven’t always been fun and games.

Leah Jablonski points to the area where she was cut by a dead catfish.

About six years ago, when Leah was in fourth grade, her trip took a scary turn. The Dublin, Ohio native was enjoying an excursion to a fishing pier on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, something her family loves to do. As she and her family ran across the wooden pier, they threw off their shoes in anticipation of stepping into the warm sand surrounding the structure. As Leah bounded onto the beach, her fun was cut short as she felt a sharp pain race through her foot. She looked down and saw blood dripping from her right heel. A dead catfish had been half buried in the sand next to the pier — likely left by a disgruntled fisherman who didn’t want the fish — but it wasn’t deep enough under the sand to hide from Leah’s foot. The barbs, sharp whiskers on the face of a catfish, had sliced Leah’s heel open. The cut was about an inch and a half long. “It wasn’t that bad,” explained Leah, “I was really worried about sand getting in the cut.”  The wound appeared to be superficial, so after cleaning and bandaging it up, she didn’t give the incident another thought.

This decision came back to haunt Jablonski months later, when the injury appeared to be fully healed. While playing a playground game of soccer — a sport she has loved and played throughout her life — she stepped hard on her heel.  A unique pain shot through her leg, “I can’t really remember how it felt at the time,” she admitted, “but I [described] it [as] an electric shock going from heel to thigh.” The experience sent her running to her mom after school, but they didn’t follow up with a medical professional. Leah explains that they thought it was an isolated freak incident so there was no need to seek medical attention.  However, the feeling persisted. She experienced the same shock through her right leg four times over the next few weeks.

Eventually, Leah’s mom scheduled a visit to the pediatrician to get to the bottom of the unusual pain. After explaining her symptoms and sitting for a careful examination of the original injured area, Leah was referred to a special doctor at her local hospital. This new physician ordered x-rays of Leah’s leg in order to diagnose the issue. When the x-ray came back a small, pointed object could be seen inside Leah’s heel. “I didn’t know it was catfish related until I saw the scan” she explained. “I was worried about sand getting in the cut, I had no idea anything else could get in the cut too. I didn’t know that incident would come back.”

A surgery was promptly scheduled, to remove the object — which was determined to be a barb from the catfish — from her foot. To this day Leah is still marveled by the fact that a barb could be injected into her foot by a catfish, postmortem. After the surgery, she returned to school, and when she explained the reason behind the procedure, no one believed her. The story behind her injury sure is unique, and it’s something that she is unlikely to forget. Now every time Leah returns to Gulf Shores, Alabama, she is reminded of the freak incident–one that led to a crazy story that she will be able to tell for years to come.