By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
After a long struggle against a nightmarish botulism infection, Hans Russell of Jackson, 56, died Wednesday in a Salt Lake hospital, a family friend has confirmed.
With his passing, Wyoming has lost a robust, humorous, talented and adventurous human being, James Peck of Jackson told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.
“Hans was a very active outdoorsman, especially when it came to river running and paragliding,” said Peck, who was a family friend and Russell’s boss. “He was always looking to get out on the river, to get out in the woods. He did a lot of solo traveling.”
Russell had achieved legendary status as a whitewater river runner, and he worked as a bus driver for Peck’s Lewis & Clark River Expeditions, Peck said, adding that Russell had worked for him for six years.
It is thought that Russell might have contracted botulism from tainted soup while on a river trip in Idaho in September. Botulism is a rare, toxic foodborne infection that can attack the nervous system and shut down most body functions. The toxin comes from anerobic bacteria.
Russell lay paralyzed in the University of Utah Medical Center for more than 60 days before his death, Peck said. He was surrounded by a small group of family and particularly close friends when he died.
Russell’s story was part of a Cowboy State Daily report published Thursday about the dangers of botulism.
The course of the disease was terrible, Peck said.
“He couldn’t move, he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t breathe, but he was conscious and aware and could understand and somewhat able to communicate,” he said.
One thing about the ordeal is that one of the nurses at the hospital was an old, close river guiding friend, Peck said.
“I think it was a tremendous comfort for his family to know that there was somebody right there for him,” he said.
Adventure, Talent And Humor
In addition to being keen on all things outdoors, Russell was a profoundly talented artist, Peck said. He earned a degree in fine arts from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Russell was also quick with humor, drawing inspiration from the iconic late comedian George Carlin.
“George Carlin was his hero,” Peck said. “Hans had a phenomenal sense of humor. He was very wry and very cynical in his humor.”
Russell had a unique point of view and a fearless approach to life, Peck said. Those attributes usually manifested themselves in epic adventures.
That include riding practically entire length of the Western Hemisphere on an Enduro motorcycle.
“He once rode his motorcycle from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle,” Peck said.