Man recovering from snakebite

Published 2:59 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When Alabaster resident Rene Perez went to his neighbor’s house to inform him that his dogs were loose, he never would have dreamed what would happen next.

But then again, no one ever expects to be bitten by a 4-foot copperhead in their own yard.

While sitting on his porch the evening of July 27, Perez noticed his neighbor’s dogs were out.

So, as neighbors tend to do, Perez went and told the dogs’ owner. After the two neighbors chatted for a few minutes, things turned tragic for Perez.

One his way back to his house, Perez walked through some pine straw lying at the base of several pine trees that line his side yard.

On his first step in the pine straw, Perez felt something “squishy” underneath his foot.

“I knew it right when I stepped on it,” Perez said.

As Perez stepped on the snake, he looked down just in time to see it wrap around and bite him on top of his left pinkie toe.

“It was a split-second, but it seemed like slow motion,” Perez said. “It felt like a stab.”

Following the bite, Perez immediately went into his house and informed his wife, Georganne.

At first, the pain was limited to the puncture wound from the snake’s fangs. But, the pain quickly intensified and started climbing Perez’s leg.

Realizing the seriousness of the bite, Perez called 911 and within minutes Alabaster Fire and Rescue was on the scene.

Once there, rescue workers hooked Perez up to an IV and then transported him to Shelby Baptist Medical Center.

“I took my first ride in an ambulance,” Perez said. “And I’ve probably been to the emergency room 20 times in my life … but I’ve never gone right in.”

As Perez arrived, doctors were waiting and quickly admitted him.

In the emergency room, doctors marked Perez’s foot to track the progression of the bite, which rapidly moved past the marks the doctors had made.

Acting quickly, doctors gave Perez a dose of anti-venom to combat the effects of the snakebite, but that decision almost unexpectedly cost Perez his leg, or even his life.

What Perez and his doctors did not know was that he is allergic to anti-venom.

Within 10 minutes of receiving the anti-venom, Perez had an allergic reaction and his body began to break out in welts and swell.

He began having trouble breathing and spent two days in the ICU before he began to improve.

After another day in the hospital, Perez was released and has since been recovering at home.

While the bite was extremely painful for Perez, he said he has been overwhelmed by the support and concern people have shown him.

Tim Durrett of the Alabaster Fire and Rescue was one of the first on the scene and Perez said he even came up to the hospital to check on him the next day.

“Better yet, (Durrett) drove by my house while I was in the hospital and he saw that my grass needed cutting and he cut it,” Perez said. “Our Alabaster Fire Department is absolutely awesome.”

Although venomous snakebites in residential areas are uncommon, they do happen and Perez said he has heard several stories about snakes in the Alabaster area.

The mail carrier serving Perez’s neighborhood near Kingwood said he killed a copperhead last summer and the nurse in the ER, who also happens to be Perez’s neighbor, said she saw one dead in the street within the past year.

Alabaster Fire Chief Frank Matherson said his department has responded to snakebites, but it has been awhile.

“This is the first one we’ve seen in years,” Matherson said.

But just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. And that is something Perez will remember for the rest of his life.

“I’ve learned not to wear my flip-flops during the night and to take a flashlight when I walk at night,” Perez said.