At Becky’s Diner in Willshire, they call him Batman. What else? When you get bit by a rabid bat and then become the first person ever to survive rabies, it’s an easy moniker to have hung on you.
Matt Winkler’s been Batman for 43 years now. Everyone knows him in this friendly corner of Van Wert County and he knows them as well. He’s been a celebrity of sorts ever since he made medical history as a six-year-old boy back in 1970.
Matt telephoned after reading last Monday’s column that chronicled the four-month episode, as did Dr. John Stechschulte, one of three doctors who saved Matt’s life.
So, how have the years been treating them?
Matt said, matter-of-factly, that he still has a knack for getting bit by wildlife.
“I’ve been bitten by almost every type of animal living in this part of the state. If you can name it, I’ve been bitten by it. I have been bitten by more dogs ‘that have never bitten anyone before’, but they just happen to bite me.”
He loves wildlife, even bats.
“I don’t hate bats; I’m not scared of bats. I just got bit because that bat was sick,” he said.
Matt now raises hogs with his son Chris 21. He and wife Darlene live just a couple of miles from where he grew up. His parents, Nick and Verna, still live in the area as does a sister, Valerie. Another son, Jeff, 19, works in Indiana.
Unusual circumstances still have a way of finding him.
His adult life has seen an apartment he once lived in burn down. An explosion occurred in the cellar of the old family homestead, destroying all the old photographs and clippings his family had saved from his hospital stay. The last few years he’s been dealing with identity theft.
“Somebody using my name, that’s what bothers me the most. The other things you deal with, they just happen.”
Matt said he’s been to St. Rita’s a “handful of times” since his adventurese as a child.
“Every time I’m in that place I always go into pediatrics first thing just to check it out. Some of the same nurses still are there. I cannot thank those nurses enough. I remember a lot of it, but I don’t know if that’s from what I actually remember or from what I read.”
Dr. Stetchschulte recalled the October night when he was first called about Matt. He had just arrived home from his house calls and hospital visits when the phone rang.
“It was not unusual to have a rural doctor call you in the evening, but I never would have dreamed what the next few months would be like. When I first saw Matt, I remember telling a nurse, ‘don’t let him bit you.’ But those nurses just loved him to death. He was such a cute boy.”
The story made headlines worldwide, including LIFE magazine, Tim and Newsweek.
Stechshulte, 82, retired in 1994 and now lives with his wife, Susan, in Oceola, Fla. The’ve known each other since second-grade when they attended St. Rose Elementary School.
To this day, he likes to occasionally call former patients to see how they’re doing.
“Now that I know where Matt is, you can bet I’ll be giving him a call.”
ROSES AND THORNS: A few this week.
Rose: To Ray Magnus, who is making a return trip to Vietnam, where he was wounded as a soldier in 1970.
Rose: To Jenna Ward, 17, a Lima Senior High School student and an avid outdoorsperson. She bagged her first deer this past season.
Rose: To Blythe Randall, of Lima. The 57-year-old woman has a heart of gold, adopting three siblings whom she had been a foster parent for three years.
Rose: To Rachael Gilroy of Spencerville, a paralegal and bank officer who was appointed as Allen County treasurer.
Thorn: Lima Mayor David Berger told fellow Democrats that The Lima News was all wet in an editorial that noted he too has skirted residency requirements, citing the employment of Steve Cleaves. We understand Cleaves was initially hired to fill in for someone on medical leave. However, the "interim employment" went on for six years at a salary which exceeded $70,000 a year. At some point, the word “interim” served as a convenient way to get around the residency issue and keep a very talented finance director who lived in Shawnee. By the way, Cleaves salary for 2011 was $101,644.
Thorn: To Lima attorney Stephen Chamberlain, who found himself snookered into depositing a fraudulent $297,500 check into an account at Union Bank.
Thorn: To Shawnee Township police, who declined to release the name of a woman who drove her car into a home on Wonderlick Road, saying the is was under investigation.
Thorn: Someone from the Allen Couny Sheriff’s Office lost a taser gun. It ended up being found by a middle school student.
Thorn: To former Kalida teacher and volleyball coach a Jeremy Stober, who was convicted of various sex charges involving former students.
PARTING SHOT: If at first you do succeed, try not to act too surprised.