It took 22 vials of anti-venom, an airlift to Loma Linda University Medical Center to see a well-known doctor, and most of Friday night before the swelling in 22-month-old Daniel Laster’s right side began to stop.
Daniel, who lives in Lake Elsinore with his parents and big sisters, was the victim of a rattlesnake bite, and his story is a reminder that snake season has started.
Late Friday afternoon, Daniel was anxiously awaiting his dad’s return home from work so the two could share their nightly routine.
“They love to hang out in the garage – it’s their time together,” said Daniel’s mom, Christina Laster.
When Mark Laster got home, father and son made the short walk from the house to the garage. Out of excitement, the toddler ran ahead, Christina explained.
Before he got to the garage, Daniel must have seen the snake.
“He jumped to the side and that’s when he got bit,” Christina continued.
The young, 15-inch-long snake struck fast, piercing Daniel’s tiny right-hand ring finger with both fangs.
Understandably, the toddler began screaming.
“Immediately, I did panic,” Christina admits, adding that the 911 operator told her she had to remain calm and keep her boy quiet and still while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
“I prayed and I calmed down,” she said. “The operator told us it was very important to keep Daniel’s heart rate down, otherwise the venom would pump faster through his system.”
Once at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar, Mark and Christina watched as their 25-pound baby was treated. But six vials of anti-venom later, hospital officials called for Daniel to be airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center to see a specialist.
“He arrived at Loma Linda around 9 p.m.,” Christina estimated. At that point the swelling had spread up his arm, through his shoulder, and to his back and chest.
“His hand and arm were hard like a brick,” Christina said.
It took 16 more vials of anti-venom before the swelling finally stopped spreading, and Daniel’s little arm and hand began to soften again.
At some point in the process the Laster’s realized their baby boy was being treated by emergency physician and “envenomation” specialist Dr. Sean Bush, who is also a television personality known for his work on Venom ER, as well as other shows featuring venomous creatures.
“Dr. Bush was very confident. He knew exactly what to do,” Christina said, noting that the doctor told her he treats 50 to 80 rattlesnake bite victims a year, and approximately one-third are children. March 1 is the official start of the rattlesnake season. “He spent a lot of time explaining things to us.”
For example, the Lasters learned that Mark’s effort to suck the venom out of Daniel’s bite wound is never advisable in any situation. Also, while baby rattlers often do inject all their venom during a bite, their poison is not as potent as an adult snake. And baby rattlesnakes don’t stick together.
“Dr. Bush told us that when rattlesnakes hatch, mom and babies go their separate ways,” Christina said.
The Lasters also learned that Dr. Bush has personal experience with rattlesnake bites.
“When his own son was 24 months old, the child was bit,” Christina said.
The Lasters expected their boy would have a lengthy hospital stay, but by Sunday he was making a remarkable recovery so Dr. Bush discharged him. Daniel’s only medication has been a child’s-strength over-the-counter pain reliever to keep his low-grade fever down, and he’s having blood drawn every two days to ensure everything gets back to normal. His hand is black and blue, but he’s eating normally and he wants to play.
The bite left a lasting impression, Christina said. When the family arrived home Sunday, Daniel panicked when he saw the television cord.
“I think he thought it was a snake,” she said.
He’s also had some night terrors, but the family’s pediatrician said it was expected, given the trauma caused by the bite and hospital experience, Christina said.
Mark and Christina have lived in Southern California all their lives, but have never had such a close encounter with a rattlesnake.
When asked what other advice Dr. Bush gave them to prevent such a thing from happening again, Christina laughed and said, “Daniel’s never going outside again!
“Dr. Bush did say that an adult should ‘sweep’ outdoor areas before letting kids play there,” she said.
Sweeping means taking a broom or other long-handled tool and literally sweeping an area to check for snakes. The doctor also advised keeping grass mowed and avoid providing rattlesnake habitat, such as wood or rock piles. Also, because rodents attract snakes, keeping property free of vermin is helpful, Christina said the doctor advised.
“I just want parents to know,” Christina said. “This can happen.”