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Local activist still recovering from rare spider bite health scare

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Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou has helped many Utahns overcome sexual abuse and other issues that vulnerable communities face.

Then this past year, Feltch-Malohifo’ou, the founder and CEO of the group Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), needed help herself after a health scare following a reaction to multiple spider bites.

"I was really appreciative to all the people in the community that reached out, donated, gave, visited, sent flowers. There was just… I was overwhelmed… with that. But it’s been a long haul," she said.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou says it has been 10 months since she was bitten and her wound has still not finished healing. She sees a nurse Monday, Wednesday and Friday for therapy and is also being seen by a wound doctor.

"Still, I am grateful to be alive — that’s the only thing I can say," she said.

It was last July when Feltch-Malohifo’ou was bit multiple times by what they believe was a brown recluse spider while with her family at Mirror Lake in Utah's Uintah Mountains. She says she's grateful she sought medical attention when she did.

"A nurse wheeled me into the doctor to do an x-ray and I woke up two weeks later — 9 surgeries, had been in a medical induced coma. I had no idea," she said.

She is getting around with a walker now and said she's not able yet to work full-time but has renewed passion and purpose after being so close to death.

"What am I going to do? What’s my legacy? Where can I make a difference? And where is that biggest difference?" she said.

A new COO started last week at PIK2AR where they hope to take any other missions global. But Feltch-Malohifo’ou has also sarted a new super PAC called Pacifika.

"Marginalized communities don’t always have a say in legislation, and I have this saying: 'Nothing about us without us,'" she said. "And in legislation... that happens every year. Legislators are just doing whatever they think is right for us, but we don’t have a say."

She hopes to make it easier for all voices to be heard through education, empowerment and funding.

"My hope is that we’re going to be able to make it relevant to people’s households. What’s happening on hills that are affecting people’s actual livelihood in their homes," she said.

According to local experts, brown recluse spiders are not native to Utah. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you may not encounter one. And it’s not necessarily the bite, but what may happen after that bite than could really get you.

"The best thing you can do is just clean it out very quickly. A lot of times we have no idea what did the biting, so if you have, whatever bit you, the best thing you can do is to collect it right away," said Kate Richardson, an arthropod diagnostician with Utah State University.

She says that can help you better treat the problem.

"The problem is less so with the bite itself. It’s a lot of times it’s the secondary infection that occur," she said.

There are a number of spiders in Utah that could cause severe reactions, like black widows, desert recluses, yellow sac spiders, and more. Richardson advises wearing long sleeves and gloves if doing any spring cleaning to avoid a bite.