Posted on March 22, 2005

Barracuda Attacks IUP Student

Jenni Easton, Penn Online (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), Mar. 16

Paul Guzan (junior, criminology) waded in the clear, shallow water near the shores of Cancun, Mexico, one day during last week’s spring break. Friends, drinks and sun ruled the afternoon — until he felt a sharp clamp on his foot.

“The water was about up to my knees,” he said Monday. “I was swimming, just fooling around, and I felt something pull my foot away. It felt like a steel trap.

“It was pretty shocking,” he said. “As soon as it grabbed me, I started walking. When I got out of the water, I noticed that my tendons and toes were kind of hanging. And blood was squirting everywhere.”

Guzan had been attacked by a barracuda, the torpedo-like tropical fish nicknamed “the tiger of the sea” for its predatory prowess. His foot was shredded, as the fish had ripped the skin away and torn through tendons, nerves and ligaments.

And his problems didn’t end there.

Guzan said he was taken to a local Mexican hospital, where he was forced to wait hours for care: “They told me my insurance company was ‘red-flagged’ . . . that I would have to pay between $10,000 and $20,000 cash before they would even treat me.”

The hospital claimed that HealthAmerica, Guzan’s provider, was blacklisted for not paying on an unrelated case, though HealthAmerica later told Pittsburgh’s Channel 4 that the hospital was confusing it with another carrier.

“Luckily,” Guzan said, “I had my parents’ platinum credit card with a high limit. The owner of the hospital came down and told me my surgery would be expensive. He said, ‘It will be at least $10,000 to start. If you can’t do that, if you don’t have that, feel free to leave and find another hospital.’“

Guzan paid the $10,000 and waited eight hours, foot wrapped and bleeding, to be admitted to surgery. The surgery, he said, took place Wednesday and also lasted eight hours.

After the surgery was complete, the hospital told him that he wouldn’t be released until he paid an additional $5,000. This is where the American embassy stepped in, according to a report from Pittsburgh’s Channel 4. Guzan’s family began calling around to contact authorities, and the embassy intervened on their behalf.

“They faxed something over to the hospital showing them that, because we paid the deposit, they can’t physically keep us from leaving,” Cheryl Guzan, the student’s mother, said. Consequently, Guzan was released from the hospital Friday and returned to the states that evening. He was quickly taken to a hospital near his home in McMurray, Pa., where plastic surgeons and physicians approved of the work done by the Mexican doctors.

“They said that everything looked good,” Guzan said. Guzan is currently receiving antibiotics to prevent infection, but needed no further surgery upon his return to the country. He is confined to his home for at least two weeks, he said, but plans to return to his IUP classes before the end of the semester. He comes away from the experience with a few things, including blow-by-blow photos taken by his Mexican surgeons of his foot before, during and after his surgery — inside and out. And he has a spring break story to tell, sure to rival anyone else’s.

“I was thinking about getting a tattoo,” he said. “Barracuda’s teeth marks. Right above my foot.”