TORONTO - Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt was away from the team part of last week for personal reasons and has not played since Nov. 14. He opened up Monday about his absence, which occurred after his 7-year-old daughter was hospitalized after being bitten by the venomous brown recluse spider.

The bite, which Witt and his wife initially thought was from a mosquito, ate away at the flesh and left a 11/2-inch hole in their daughter's leg, which doctors feared might have to be amputated if not treated properly.

"It was a scary time for my family," Witt said. "It was tough. As a parent, you never want to see your kid in pain. And the reality that she might lose her leg at such a young age was very scary."

After learning the severity of his daughter's condition, Witt stayed behind after the Islanders' 5-4 shootout loss to the Panthers 10 days ago to be with his daughter at a Florida hospital. (Witt requested that her name not be revealed.)

Fortunately for Witt and his family, his daughter is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery. "She went to go see 'New Moon' the other night," Witt said with a smile. "So that tells me she's OK."

Witt also said he appreciates the support he received from his teammates and the Islanders' organization during the difficult period. "I was given the time to be with my family," Witt said. "Garth [Snow] has always been family first."

As much as the Islanders value Witt's veteran presence at the blue line, coach Scott Gordon said he encouraged him to take as much time as he needed to deal with the situation and not rush to return.

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"Go be with your family. Take your time, and don't feel like you have to get right back," Gordon said of the organization's stance. "Thankfully, things worked out how they did."

Witt's return to the lineup last night was welcomed.

"Witt is a presence on the ice. He makes the opposition look over their shoulder," Gordon said. "He was playing some of his best hockey before he left to go be with his family, so we're glad to have him back."


Habits: The brown recluse spider is not aggressive and usually bites only when crushed, handled or disturbed. Brown recluse spiders usually bite only when they become trapped next to the victim's skin.

Bite characteristics: The bite can cause a painful, deep wound that takes a long time to heal. When there is a severe reaction to the bite, the site can erupt into a "volcano lesion'' (a hole in the flesh because of damaged, gangrenous tissue). Some people are unaffected; others experience immediate or delayed effects because the venom kills the tissues at the site of the bite.

Distribution: The brown recluse spider is found mainly in the central midwestern states southward to the Gulf of Mexico and into Florida.

Identification: Commonly referred to as "fiddleback'' or "violin'' spiders because of the violin-shaped marking on the top surface of the cephalothorax (fused head and thorax).

Sources: Ohio State University, University of Florida.