‘Rust’ crew member who suffered spider bite faces long recovery

'Rust' crew member who suffered spider bite faces long recovery

A New Mexico man who almost lost his arm after a poisonous bite from a spider on the “Rust” movie set said he still has “high hopes” to return to the job he loves. 

Jason Miller is recovering at a specialized care facility in Albuquerque and has undergone three surgeries to save his left arm after he was bit by a brown recluse spider on Oct. 27 at Bonanza Creek — the site where actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins just a week earlier while filming the Western movie “Rust.”

Miller, 44, said he and a small crew were hired to tear down and pack up what was left of the “Rust’ set after law enforcement officials gave the OK. Miller, who works as a pipe rigger and set electrician, said he was packing some cables when one of the other crew members pointed out that a small spider was on his shirt. 

“I didn’t think anything of it at first,” Miller said. “I just brushed it off, but I’m also diabetic so I have neuropathy, which means I don’t feel light touch. I had no idea I had been bit already.”

Just 12 hours after, Miller said the bite area started swelling and a few days later, discoloration started to appear up and down his elbow and upper arm. On the fourth day, he went to the hospital and was treated with antibiotics. 

Jason Miller's spider bite.
A few days after being bitten, discoloration started to appear up and down Jason Miller’s elbow and upper arm.

The next day, however, Miller was in so much pain that he could barely focus on anything, let alone drive himself to the hospital. He immediately called 911.

“By then, it turned into necrotizing fasciitis,” a rare bacterial infection, he said. “I had no idea, and they took me into surgery so fast. I thought they would be able to just treat the area of the bite. I didn’t realize that it was my whole arm and that my life was in danger because I have already become fully septic.” 

In the next few days, Miller underwent three surgeries and was in and out of consciousness. He has lost about 70 percent of the fascia, the connective tissue beneath the skin, of his left arm. Despite the pain he has endured, Miller remains hopeful and thankful to the doctors and nurses who not only save his arm but also his life.

Jason Miller "Rust" spider bite
Miller has undergone three surgeries to save his left arm 
Courtesy of Jason Miller
Jason Miller spider bite
The next year of recovery will involve skin grafts, possibly more surgeries and physical therapy for Jason Miller.
Courtesy of Jason Miller

The next year will involve skin grafts, possibly more surgeries and physical therapy. Miller’s doctors said he could lose about 70 percent of his arm function, and it could be a year before he gets any feeling back in the area. 

“I will continue to do these treatments but it’s just going to take time and patience,” he said. “I’m a pretty independent person and not someone who likes to be laid up. And also, I love my job, so hopefully I will be able to lift 50 pounds again. I don’t know if I ever will, but if I can’t go back to being an electrician, I’m sure there is another class that I’ll be able to find my way in.”

Miller said he initially had an issue with getting support from his union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, because much of the focus was on the Oct. 21 shooting that killed Hutchins. 

Miller said he hired attorneys and looked into filing a workers comp claim, but the union has been in touch and has provided assistance.

Family members also set up a GoFundMe page for Miller, which has raised more than $13,000 by Tuesday.

Miller’s mother, Judy, said she is thankful that so many family, friends, union members and complete strangers have donated to help her son.

Jason Miller.
Jason Miller said he hired attorneys and looked into filing a workers comp claim.
Courtesy of Jason Miller

“He has a very long road ahead of him and we don’t know if his arm will ever be the same as before,” Judy, 68, said. “He’s so used to lifting 50-pound cables and he’s also predominantly left-handed, so this will take some time. But he is strong and he’s doing pretty good. He’s had the best treatment from doctors, nurses and there is a wonderful staff.”

The film worker said he has no regrets about working that day with the “wrap crew” that was tasked to tear down the “Rust” set. 

“All of us who have been out at Bonanza Ranch over the years know it’s a special place,” Miller said. “Before we took everything down, we bowed our heads down and had a moment of silence in respect for those who were affected. What happened there was a tragedy and just such a rare thing. It’s so unheard of. We are still in shock that something like that could happen.”

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