Venom response team saves rattlersnake-bite victim's life
Everglades Park Ranger Anthony Terry said, 'I thought it was all over ... If they weren't there so fast, I wouldn't be here today'
By David Fleshler
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The rattlesnake struck in an instant, and Anthony Terry knew he might die.
As a ranger at Everglades National Park, Terry's duties included removing the deadly snakes from houses and public areas and letting them loose in remote regions of the park. But last Saturday, a snake outsmarted his well-practiced trapping techniques, and he survived only through the swift action of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom Response Team.
His ordeal began with a routine call to remove a rattlesnake from a park employee's house in the Flamingo area, where the park's vast marshes give way to Florida Bay. He pinned down the five-and-a-half-foot snake, grasped it behind the head and was about to drop it into the bag when the snake twisted around and sank its fangs into his left index finger.
Well aware of the lethal venom that had entered his bloodstream, he called 911. Another park employee started driving him the 38 miles toward the main park entrance.
"The initial pain was like a hot iron," he said, speaking Friday at Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, with his left arm in a sling and his finger swollen with a huge blister. "Later on, it felt like a hammer that had been heated up, and each time my heart beat, the hammer would hit my hand. And then it got harder and harder and I started hallucinating."
The 911 call was routed to the Venom Response Team, which maintains a bank of 48 antivenins for snakes, scorpions and spiders, from native species such as rattlesnakes and coral snakes to exotic ones like cobras and green mambas. The squad's Lt. Scott Mullin boarded a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter with vials of the treatment that could save the ranger's life.
Skimming over the subdivisions, farms and swamps of southwestern Miami-Dade County at 140 miles per hour, the helicopter reached the center of Everglades National Park in 15 minutes. The car carrying Terry stopped on the main park road, Mullin led him onto the helicopter and they flew to Homestead Hospital.
Speed was crucial. A dose of 100 milligrams of venom can kill a person within two hours by damaging tissue and disabling the body's ability to clot blood, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. A single bite can inject up to 800 milligrams.
"They are probably the most dangerous snake in North America," said Lt. Lisa Wood, of the venom squad. "If something is going to kill you from Everglades National Park, it's likely to be the eastern diamondback."
Although Mullin had the antivenin with him, he could not give it until they reached they hospital because it must be administered in a controlled, intravenous drip with the dosage ramped up as the patient responds. They arrived at the hospital within an hour of the bite, a tribute to the rescue squad's efficiency. It took 28 vials to save him.
"I thought it was all over with," Terry said. "It was pretty bad. I want to be honest. I thought I was going to die in the hospital. If they weren't there so fast I wouldn't be here today."
Wood said Terry was expected to make a full recovery.
"He should have a great outcome," she said. "It looks very ugly right now but snake bites do that. That big blister is nature's bandage."
Rattlesnakes are common in South Florida, and can be found in suburban neighborhoods as well as the wilderness of the Everglades, she said.
Despite the agony, Terry bears no ill-will toward his tormentor, which escaped right after biting him. And when he returns to work, having been spared in the government shutdown because he is considered an essential employees, he will continue to -- very carefully -- catch them and release them unharmed.
"They're just doing their thing," he said. "I just missed a step in the catching process. It was just me. The snake didn't do anything wrong."
(c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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|McClatchy-Tribune News Service|