Everglades National Park Ranger Survives Potentially Deadly Bite From Rattlesnake

Ranger Terry met with members of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) Venom Response Program to thank them for their help. Photo from MDFR.

These days if you hear the terms "snake" and "Everglades National Park" in the same news story, you might logically expect the subject to be Burmese Pythons. The pythons can be very large snakes, but they aren't venomous. A bite from an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a much different story, as one ranger at the park can readily confirm from his recent harrowing experience.

It's one of those "other duties as assigned" for rangers throughout the National Park Service. When a fellow employee, park resident or visitor spots a snake in an undesirable location such as a campsite or inside a building, "Who're you gonna call?" usually means a ranger.

Snake Removal Is One of Many Duties for Rangers

That was the case on September 28 when an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake was discovered inside a residence at Everglades National Park, and Ranger Anthony Terry was among those tasked with removing the intruder. Such assignments almost always end well, even for the snake, but this situation was one of the exceptions; in the process of capturing the snake, the ranger was bitten on a finger on his left hand.

At that moment, Ranger Terry had the misfortune of learning why a bite from one of these rattlesnakes can be big trouble.

Lt. Lisa Wood works for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) Venom Response Program, and she put the risk in perspective: "If something is going to kill you from Everglades National Park, it's likely to be the eastern diamondback."

According to the Venom Response Program's information about the Eastern diamondback (EDR), "While only 70mg of its venom can kill a person in 2 hours, one bite from the EDB can inject between 700-800 mgs of venom which causes tissue death and disables the blood's ability to clot, causing the person to bleed to death."

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom Response Program Made the Difference

There was, however, one bit of good news in the midst of this situation, and it was the rapid availability of expert help from the Venom Response Program at the MDFR.

That unit "specializes in the response, management, and treatment of envenomations," and "currently maintains the largest and only antivenom bank for public use in the United States. The Team employs the latest techniques to prevent morbidity and mortality through antivenom intervention 24 hours a day, seven days a week, locally, nationally, and internationally."

On September 28 that expertise was combined with the availability of quick helicopter transport to Homestead Baptist Hospital by the MDFR, and that speed proved to be important in the outcome.

Quick and Expert Care Leads to a Good Outcome

Ranger Terry is expected to make a full recovery after treatment with over two dozen vials of antivenom and a stay in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. Six days after the incident, his swollen hand still in a sling, he met with members of the MDFR to thank them for their help, and to recount his experience for local media representatives.

"If they weren't there so fast, I probably wouldn't be here today," Terry said about the MDFR team. "Having a unit that just knows about snakes and the poisonous animals in this area, and having the Everglades right there ... I don't know how you can do without it."

MDFR Lt. Enrique Gonzalez was one of those treating Ranger Terry in the helicopter which took him from the park to the hospital. “You could tell the pain was starting to get a hold of him because he was sweating more and more even though we had the AC vents blowing on him,” Gonzalez said.

"A Hot Hammer"

During the press conference, Ranger Terry described his experience: "Later on, about a hour later, it felt like a hammer than had been heated up. Every time my heart beat, the hammer would hit my hand, and then it got harder and harder ... It was pretty bad. I want to be honest. I thought I was going to die in the hospital."

Thanks to the expert care, Ranger Terry is expected to regain full use of his hand, and will be returning to duty soon, albeit temporarily on a somewhat limited basis.

It's important to note that bites from these snakes are uncommon, and throughout the U. S. most snakebites of any variety occur when people either try to pick up the reptile, or reach or step into places without first looking to see if the area is already occupied.

At the press conference on October 4, Ranger Terry commented that Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are not usually encountered by people in the park. His situation on the job was one of the very rare cases when anyone should attempt to get up close and personal with any poisonous snake; the best advice if you spot such reptiles is to keep your distance and just leave them alone.