Cary W. Phalen was a man who, if he had cut off his finger, would just glue it back on, his wife said.
Even after his spleen ruptured in a work accident in 1985, the 50-year-old Papillion man survived bites, cuts, scratches and other injuries without worry.
That's why Sandie Phalen was shocked to learn that a minor dog bite might have killed her husband of 28 years.
The bite, which looked more like a scratch, occurred Aug. 4. Phalen said her husband cleaned the wound but did not seek medical treatment.
Two days later, the hardworking family man was admitted to an emergency room after he complained of a “weird feeling” in his hands and feet and difficulty breathing, his wife said.
Cary Phalen died Tuesday at Lakeside Hospital.
Phalen's doctors told his wife that the rapidly moving infection that ravaged her husband's organs may have been caused by a bacterium found in dogs' saliva. An autopsy was scheduled to determine the cause of death, Omaha police said.
Capnocytophaga is a bacterium found in the mouths of dogs and cats, said Dr. Trevor VanSchooneveld, an infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
If the bacterium enters a human's bloodstream it is possible — though unusual — for it to cause severe and rapid infection, especially if a person does not have a spleen, he said.
One of the spleen's duties is to assist the immune system in fighting certain types of bacteria in the bloodstream. People without a spleen are usually warned to notify their doctor at any sign of an infection to prevent sepsis, or blood poisoning, VanSchooneveld said.
Sandie Phalen said doctors never told her husband to be concerned about dog bites. The focus, she said, was on preventing pneumonia, because spleen removal results in a higher risk of infection.
Cary Phalen was passionate about motorcycles. He rode them, raced them and fixed them. He was an electrician by trade.
His wife said it may have been a job opportunity that took her husband to the Benson area about noon last Saturday. According to a police report, Phalen was visiting an acquaintance when a 4-year-old Labrador-pit bull mix bit him on the cheek.
Mark Langan, director of field operations for the Nebraska Humane Society, described the bite as minor. He said the dog, named Ace, was up to date on his license and vaccinations, and the animal's owner was not ticketed. Ace remains at home, Langan said.
VanSchooneveld said most people should be safe after washing minor dog bite wounds with soap and water, but it is important for all dog bite victims to watch the wound carefully for any sign of infection, he said.
Police said that the investigation into Phalen's death was continuing and that they are awaiting autopsy results.
In addition to wife Sandie, Phalen is survived by his children, Christopher and Cassie; siblings; and numerous nieces and nephews.
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