Super swimmer Super swimmer Super swimmer

Dana Robertson-Halter tells us about her seal encounter last summer near Decatur Island.

Illustration by Olivier Kugler | June 2024 issue

Last summer, Dana Robertson-Halter, an experienced open-water swimmer and triathlete, was enjoying her annual two-mile swim off Decatur Island. A seal, likely protecting its nearby pup, bit her through her wetsuit. She was treated at an emergency room in Skagit County, but after a week on antibiotics, the wound was not improving, and Robertson-Halter developed a fever. That’s when she turned to the experts at the Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine Clinic at UW Medical Center - Montlake. She told UW Magazine about the experience.

“I love open-water swimming. When we visit Decatur Island with our friends Dave and Debi Fournier (’90 and ’95, respectively), I have a swim. Last August, I was swimming and my friend Dave was keeping track of me from a rowboat and he said, ‘There’s a harbor seal following you.’ The next thing I know, she just slipped in, bit my leg and took off. The only reason she bit me is that she was a super protective mom with a pup.

“The first doctors treated it like they would a dog bite, with certain antibiotics. But I kept feeling worse. At the UW, an entire team [from the UW Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine Clinic] came down to see me. Everybody was like, that’s the craziest story they’d ever heard. They swabbed my wound and found bacteria from the seawater that required a different type of antibiotic. Once I started that, I felt a lot better.

“My daughters are both super active. The bigger one is a competitive swimmer and the little one is a competitive gymnast and softball player. To them, I am really embarrassing – like my parents were for me. We are always the loudest people in the crowd.

“My parents, by the way, are both doctors with ties to the UW. My mom, Christine Robertson, (’66, ’70), was one of four women in her medical school class. My dad, Tom Robertson, came to the UW for his residency and later was section head of pulmonary and critical care.

“I’m going to get a seal tattoo.”