Snake handler bitten by pet Cobra says Ben Taub doctor saved his life

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

HOUSTON - A Beaumont resident can say what many can't -- he was bitten by a venomous cobra and lived. This man said if it wasn't for one doctor's help, he'd probably be dead.

Salvador Cavazos knows not everyone lives to tell this tale.

"When I first got the initial bite -- my hardest thing was not to panic," Cavazos said.

It is hard not to panic when you're faced with a life-threatening situation. Sunday night around 6:30 p.m., he said he was bitten by a venomous monocled cobra. Cavazos is a volunteer snake handler at Gator Country in Beaumont, helping guests and employees understand safety protocol when it comes to snakes.

"Trying to educate the public about the species of snakes that we do live with," Cavazos said.

However, that weekend, he learned a lesson of his own.

 

 

"I was feeding [the cobra], got too careless, got too comfortable, wasn't paying attention to what I was doing or where the cobra was," Cavazos said.

His venomous pet monocled cobra, which he named Ninja, pulled a fast one. He realized after it happened -- the cobra bit him.

"Bout 30-40 seconds later, I felt a burning sensation through my hand. That's when I realized I got bitten ... 10-15 minutes later I had a different taste in my mouth ... 25 minutes later I had blurred vision," Cavazos said.

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Luckily, his handler knew exactly who to call. Using Facebook, he reached out to renowned toxicologist and snake bite and venom specialist Dr. Spencer Greene. Greene is the director of the Medical Toxicology consultation services for Baylor College of Medicine, who works with Ben Taub Hospital. He also serves as a staff member of the National Snakebite Support Group. He has been the course director for the annual Houston Venom Conference since 2013 and previously directed the American College of Medical Toxicology's Natural Toxins Academy.

"Bites from these cobras can cause a variety of signs and symptoms, the most dangerous one is skeletal and respiratory muscle paralysis," Greene said.

Cavazos called his neighbors, who also owned Gator Country, who drove him to the nearest hospital. There, Cavazos was placed on a ventilator and was flown to Hobby Airport and then taken by ambulance to Ben Taub. Until the point of unconsciousness, he and his neighbors were talking with Greene, who knew -- every minute counts.

"There was a gentleman in Michigan who was bitten by one of these snakes, and it wasn't treated for over 24 hours, and he had significant tissue loss," Cavazos said.

He says one antivenom doesn't fit all circumstances. While some hospitals have antivenom for more local snakes, the antivenom for this popular exotic pet had to be driven to Ben Taub from the Houston Zoo.

 

 

"I am very grateful that [Greene] does know his stuff," Cavazos said.

Four hours Cavazos was bitten, the antivenom was administered, leaving him with just a small wound, which he has to keep elevated for a couple of weeks.

"Everything is looking great. My blood work is looking great," Cavazos said.

Greene said Cavazos' case was a success story.

"Within 30 minutes of the bite, we were communicating. Everything lined up pretty well. He knew what to do, who to call. He got to the right place at the right time," Greene said.

"I feel very, very lucky," Cavazos said.

Cavazos said he does not blame the cobra at all. He said he is keeping the snake and will definitely be more careful.

"I blame myself for being careless. The snake is just doing what it's supposed to do, just being a snake and protecting itself, and it saw that I had food, and it was just trying to eat," Cavazos said.

Greene said those who deal with snakes need to have a plan, like Cavazos, in case they are bitten. For others, he said that people should watch out.

"Snakes don't want to hurt you. Generally, leaving them alone is the best way to avoid being bitten. That said, it's always important to be aware of your surroundings. If you're in an area where there are a lot of snakes, don't go barefoot at night, don't go in high grass, don't put your hand where you can't see it," Greene said. "Even though we joke that those who work with snakes are most likely to get bitten, the majority of bites happen when people are unaware of the snake."

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