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British Columbia man bitten by viper saved by Woodland Park Zoo

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Thanks to the speedy efforts and smart diagnostics of hospitals in Canada and the U.S. and a poison control center, the life of a man bitten by a venomous viper was saved by antivenin supplied by Woodland Park Zoo.

The life of Michael Lovatt of Roberts Creek, B.C. was saved thanks to the rescue of hospitals and Woodland Park Zoo. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Coastal Health.

The 61-year-old Roberts Creek, B.C. man was bitten while vacationing in Costa Rica but didn’t know at the time it was a viper. On Monday when he returned to Vancouver, he immediately sought medical attention at Vancouver General Hospital where he was diagnosed with kidney failure, and suffering from bleeding and swelling from his foot to the mid-thigh.  Dr. Roy Purssell with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) was brought in. Working around the clock, the medical team figured out the type of snake based on the patient’s symptoms, a Fer-de-lance Bothrops asper, native to Central and South America. The snake is known to cause deaths in humans.

The patient’s foot. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Coastal Health.

The team contacted Woodland Park Zoo and medical experts at UW Medicine’s Harborview Medical Center Tuesday afternoon. Mark Myers, a curator at the zoo, rounded up 20 vials of antivenin, which the zoo keeps on hand for emergencies, and arranged for a zookeeper to deliver the vials to Harborview. British Columbia Ambulance Service was in the air within minutes and picked up the antivenin by air ambulance.

According to Purssell, the patient’s blood clotting improved dramatically within minutes of receiving the antivenin and his condition had stabilized in six hours.

The zoo keeps a supply of antivenin for Mexican species of pit vipers, in the zoo’s case, rattlesnakes, cantils, eyelash vipers and bushmasters. “Receiving the call for help was quite a harrowing experience,” noted Myers. “We knew that time was critical and we had to move fast if we wanted to help save this patient’s life. I was relieved to hear that he improved within minutes and that we played a life-saving role.”

“Without the dedication of medical experts on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, and Woodland Park Zoo, this man may have succumbed to his injuries,” said Carol Swan, communications director with the BCCDC.


Anonymous said…
way to go woodlandpark!!!
Alison B. said…
Beautiful story!
Thanks! This was great team work with a great outcome.
Anonymous said…
Why didn't he go to the hospital in Costa Rica?
Our understanding is that the patient did seek treatment in Costa Rica, but received only an antibiotic there.
Anonymous said…
Thank you once again for providing life-saving antivenom to a BC resident who has been bitten by an exotic snake. BC is very fortunate to have such a resource available who is willing to supply the antivenom. You guys rock!
Anonymous said…
The existence if zoos are important! I'm so glad we have one in Seattle. I love WPZ!
Wow!!! I'm so glad that you guys had the anti-venom off hand to get this guy back on the mends. I hope once he's all better he takes the opportunity to come down and visit the zoo.
Anonymous said…
Nice work, guys!
Anonymous said…
Hooray for WPZ!
Anonymous said…
Great to see our brothers and sisters across the line working hard to save a Canadian in need.