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The week before Christmas, Southern California was slammed by a rainstorm of larger than normal proportions. The run off from the storm caused authorities to issue a warning to surfers to stay out of the water for 72 hours, but like many others, Barry Ault paddled out at Sunset Cliffs in San Diego. It would be his last session before his death. He was 71-years-old, and had spent nearly 50-years surfing.

Ault contracted an aggressive staph infection, slipped into a coma, and died on Christmas day. A legend in the local surfing community, Barry Ault was, in the words of his wife, “a water man, the essential water man … but surfing was his magic.”

After Barry Ault paddled out with two other friends in the days before Christmas, he quickly fell ill with flu-like symptoms. “Saturday night, horrible chills, shaking, terrible flu symptoms,” said his wife, Sally Ault to 10News. “He thought it was flu.” But the couple soon realized it was something much, much worse. As Barry’s condition rapidly deteriorated, he slipped into a coma three days later. “He had a raging staph infection, so he was in complete sepsis,” said his wife.  Although staph infections are usually treatable, Barry had a heart valve replaced last February, which the infection attacked. “This particular one was not one that was an MRSA so it was sensitive to antibiotics,” Dr. Eric McDonald told 10News. “Unfortunately, in this particular man’s case, because of his underlying medical conditions, it caused a problem that antibiotics were not enough.” Dr. McDonald is with the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency.

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The friends Barry Ault was surfing with also became sick–one of them so severely that doctors notified the Center for Disease Control, a requirement in certain cases.

In places like Southern California, where run off deposits high concentrations of pollutants into the ocean, beach advisories are often ignored when the waves are good. But Sally Ault wants other surfers to think twice next time. “There’s runoff everywhere, so I would just hope that anybody who, after a rain, would just wait, even when the surf is good,” she said. “There’s going to be another good day.”

A paddle out will be held in honor of Ault at Luscomb’s Point at Sunset Cliffs at 2 p.m. on Jan. 17.

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