SNAKEBITE danger high in Oklahoma

Saturday, May 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

For years there's been little doctors could do about many snakebites. But that's all changed thanks to a new drug and at least one green country family is thankful.

KOTV's Sean Mossman found out that doctors say copperhead bites are rarely fatal. But, in the case of one boy from Keys, Oklahoma, doctors had to act against the snake's rapidly spreading poison. On May 1st, 7-year-old Payton Walters was playing in his back yard. His mother, Allison, was burning brush and weeds when she heard her son's panic. "He just started screaming. He saw a snake at first and then he said it bit me, so I came running." Allison thinks the burning flushed a copperhead out and towards the house. The snake was only a foot long, much younger than what you can see at the Tulsa Zoo, but still extremely potent. It was lying at the edge of the grass when Payton walked onto it. "It bit me twice, but when it got done biting me twice, I saw it."

Payton's mom and a neighbor immediately grabbed the boy and began to apply pressure above the bite, hoping to delay the spread of poison. Another neighbor killed the snake before an ambulance arrived. Payton went to a Tahlequah hospital, but the poison quickly spread up his leg. He had to be moved to St. Francis in Tulsa where he'd receive proper treatment. When he arrived at St. Francis, the poison and swelling had moved up to Payton's mid-thigh. Payton's mom, "It was scary. It just kept moving up. Especially you could see it, there was a red streak that you could just tell when it was moving."

Fearing the poison might move into Payton's lymph nodes, doctors injected him with a new anti-venom. Cro-Fab had been in development for literally twenty-five years. It works quicker than old anti-venoms, and is in much greater supply. Payton is the first bite victim in the state of Oklahoma to ever receive the serum. And now, more than a week later, most of the swelling is gone and Payton should be walking again, soon.

Early here in the spring, Copperhead bites seem to be happening more often. In Adair County, there have already been four reported bites. County health workers say that's much more than normal.