*WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES*
An intrepid traveler who survived swimming with sharks on the trip of a lifetime told how he was so badly bitten by a venomous spider on the same vacation that doctors threatened to amputate his toe.
Super-fit Adam Knight, 29, marked the end of an amazing 12 months in August 2019 – with two branches of his Angel Swim London business, teaching swimming to babies and toddlers, thriving and a year into a great relationship with his former university pal, Erin Wigglesworth, 26, now a press officer – by jetting to South Africa for a week.
He and his friend, videographer Rob Murray, 33, had a ball, swimming with dolphins, humpback whales and even oceanic blacktip sharks, in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal.
And when Adam noticed a painful blister on the second toe of his left foot on their last day, he assumed his flippers had rubbed – boarding a flight home, where he was due at his dad Carl's wedding on September 1 – without a second thought.
Experiencing cold sweats and tiredness on the 11-hour flight, he thought it was "post-holiday fatigue" and, despite feeling even worse the next day, Adam, of Fulham, west London, refused to miss his 57-year-old dad's wedding to lettings director Caroline, 56, at Tylney Hall Hotel and Gardens in Hampshire, England.
“I still felt awful," he said. “But I put on my tuxedo, squeezed my foot into my loafers and performed my duties as son of the groom, before dancing the night away."
Adam surfing (PA Real Life/Collect)
But his fancy footwork was soon a distant memory, after he woke on September 2 to find his toe was “twice its normal size" and with a swollen left ankle – prompting his brother Matt, 25, a personal trainer, to take him straight to nearby Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
“I woke up and my ankle was throbbing," said Adam. “I showed my brother and he was like, 'Adam, let's get you to hospital.'"
“By the time I arrived I was shaking with a fever and my toe had actually started to disintegrate."
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE – Adam's spider bite (PA Real Life/Collect)
“It soon became clear that I'd been bitten by a venomous spider."
Adam – who in the summer of 2015, as part of a solo adventure traveling around southeast Asia for two years, where he spent a year on the Gili Islands, in Indonesia, led scuba diving excursions with blacktip reef sharks – was incredulous that something that small had injured him so badly.
Fearless in water, Adam, who started working on the launch of Angel Swim after returning home from his travels in 2016, never lost his thrill seeking urges and had been happily diving alongside some true monsters of the deep during his South African trip, before being hospitalized by this tiny eight-legged foe.
“In South Africa, we were diving without a cage in the deep and out of nowhere a shark would appear three meters ahead of us."
“The first 10 minutes were the scariest, but after that you start to relax and realize they're just curious creatures."
“You get told that sharks are these terrifying things, but really, they're very misunderstood – basically all because of the film 'Jaws'."
“They're actually essential for marine eco systems across the globe."
When Adam told doctors at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital about his South African escapades, they were sure he had been bitten by a venomous insect or spider – although they could not be positive what kind.
“They told me it definitely wasn't a bite that could kill me," he continued. “But it could get quite nasty if not seen to right away."
Adam and Erin after surgery for his mosquito bite (PA Real Life/Collect)
“The first thing they did was drain the toe. It was quite impressive how much fluid came out."
Put on a drip containing high-strength antibiotics, Adam was told that if his body failed to respond to treatment and the infection spread, his toe might need to be amputated.
“The orthopedic surgeon kept circling around, to see how I was doing."
Adam's mosquito bite (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I was adamant it was doing fine – he wasn't taking my toe!"
“Although, to be honest, I wasn't too fazed, as I'd still have nine others."
Discharged after three nights, with all 10 toes, he still had to return to the hospital every day for a dose of antibiotics for the following three weeks – unable to instruct his little swimmers again until the end of the month.
Then, just a week later, Adam was landed back in the hospital, this time by an infected mosquito bite on the back of his right leg – requiring surgery to remove the surrounding skin.
“The bite became huge and inflamed in a matter of days."
“Surgeons ended up removing a chunk of flesh from the back of my leg."
“I woke up from surgery thinking, 'Here I am again.'"
“Doctors told me that whatever had bitten me in South Africa had done my immune system in. It was still recovering, so I couldn't fight infection off properly."
After another three-week course of antibiotics, in December 2019 Adam was sure he had recovered and eagerly snapped up the chance of a business trip to the east coast of Australia.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE Adam after surgery on his buttock (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I flew over there to research how Australians teach swimming across the board and visited 10 schools," he said.
“They're at the top of the table for swimming instructing."
During the trip, he discovered Autism Swim, founded by Erika Gleeson, whose research claims autistic children are 160 times more likely to drown than those without the disorder.
Adam in the hospital (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I was blown away by the work she does to try and prevent this happening," said Adam. “I've been teaching babies and toddlers to swim for years and to see her passion was inspiring."
But his inspirational experience was cut short by a third visit to the hospital in four months, when he was knocked off a surfing board in Byron Bay, New South Wales, only for a small cut to become deeply infected.
“A huge wave wiped me out, so I was knocked off my surfboard and I grazed my butt on some coral," he explained.
“It was only a small cut, but it became very angry, very quickly and I knew I had to get myself to hospital."
Arriving at St. Vincent's Hospital, Bryon Bay, doctors again removed the surrounding skin, before giving Adam another course of antibiotics.
Refusing to be beaten, when he returned to London for Christmas, Adam signed up for the Iron Man challenge on November 7 in Cascais, Portugal – a triathlon involving a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon – through which he hopes to raise £5,000 for Autism Swim.
Adam and Erik Gleeson, CEO of Autism Swim (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I've been told by doctors that my immune system returning to normal won't be a matter of weeks, but rather months or years."
“So, I want to live a full and healthy life, which is why I'm setting myself this challenge – as long-term management for my future well-being."
Spending two to three hours training every day, he alternates between swim, cycle and running sessions, saying:
“I don't know when my immune system is going to be back on track, and until then I plan on doing whatever it takes to stay in the best shape I can."
Adam training for his Iron Man (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
“The spider bite has had a very humbling effect on me. I went from being a fit and healthy lad, to be being unable to walk for a month and I'm so grateful to my friends, family and my amazing girlfriend, Erin, for their support."
“I never expected one of nature's creepy crawlies to have left me in that state."
“But I've always been optimistic and want to use that optimism to help raise money for a cause close to my heart."
Adam is the founder of Angel Swim London (PA Real Lifge/Collect)
“Iron Man is going to be no easy feat, but it'll all be worth it if we smash our target."
To donate to Adam's fundraising page, click here.