Donna Kearns didn’t see the fire ant mound before she hit it.
As Fox 8 News reports, Kearns was doing yard work at her home in Archdale, North Carolina. The grass had gotten pretty high — high enough that it hid her feet from view. It also hid the fire ant mound that had popped up in the yard.
Kearns was using a weed eater to clean up the lawn when she accidentally sent it right through the fire ant mound. She told Fox 8:
“When the weed eater hit them they just exploded in on me. The biting started instantly and you could tell because it’s like pins going through you.”
She tried to get to the hose to wash off the biting ants, but couldn’t make it. And though her husband was inside, she knew that between the loud television and his hearing issues, it was nearly impossible for him to hear her cries for help.
When Kearns collapsed on the lawn, she says she was thinking, “How am I going to get to him to let him know that I am out here?”
What saved her was a sign for eggs.
As Kearns lay on the ground, a couple drove by their house. Though they were strangers, the wife says she always looks toward the Kearns’ home when she drives by because of the sign advertising fresh eggs in the yard. When she saw a woman prostrate in the grass, she stopped to help.
The stranger knocked on the door and told Kearns’ husband that his wife had collapsed in the yard. Then she called 911.
By the time paramedics arrived, Kearns was unresponsive and unable to tell them what had happened. It was only by looking at the bites on her feet that emergency crews were able to figure out that she had been attacked by fire ants and was having a severe allergic reaction to them.
According to Mississippi State University (MSU), a single colony of fire ants can have tens of thousands (and even as many as 200,000) ants, all of which will aggressively defend their home. Moreover, a mound large enough to see is at least several months old — which means that there are probably several younger colonies nearby that you cannot see easily.
Because fire ant bites are not just painful, but dangerous (especially for the elderly and young children), MSU suggests that homeowners use a multi-pronged strategy to control fire ants on your property, including granular baits, mound treatments, and insecticide.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends wearing boots and insect repellent to reduce the risk of stings while working near fire ants. Be aware of the mounds and foraging ants, and don’t stand on or near them. If attacked, leave the area and brush off the ants with a cloth or gloved hand.
Fire ant bites develop pustules that can develop into infections. In some individuals, the bites can cause a secondary allergic reaction. If you feel short of breath or experience nausea or swelling from a fire ant bite, seek immediate medical attention.
Kearns spent two days in the hospital recovering from the fire ant attack. She now realizes she might have died had it not been for the stranger who stopped to help. As she told Fox 8, “It was meant to be, I guess it wasn’t my time to go. She was in the right place at the right time, and thank God she stopped and I love her to death.”