It seemed the little things made all the difference for an Iola boy, Gage Scheibmeir, on the evening of Sept. 7 — the “little pinch” that turned a fun day at the lake into a nightmare and the steps his family took to protect him.
Gage, 8, was bitten by a young copperhead snake while carrying garbage to a trash can at Chaparral Lake, near Mound City. He, along with his family and friends, were spending the day fishing and swimming at the lake.
The snake was poised at the bottom of the trash can, and struck when he came near. It bit him on the right side of his right foot.
“It felt like something pinched me,” Gage said. His parents, Sha-Donna and Chris, had taught him about snakes at an early age; he knew exactly what had happened, and he spotted the snake.
He returned to his parents, who sprung to action when they found out what had happened. Sha-Donna began “milking” his leg to force the venom out of the wound. Chris, along with a few others, found the snake, killed it and put it in a bag.
The group called 911 within about five minutes — Sha-Donna admitted “it felt like forever” — they drove Gage to the entrance of the lake area and met a CareFlight helicopter.
“They freaked out, I stayed calm,” Gage said, as his parents both laughed.
“We just tried to keep him calm,” Chris said. “To keep his heart rate down.”
Once at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, an anti-venom was administered and the doctors gave Gage pain medication for the bite. His mother said the bite wound was beginning to turn black when they arrived in Kansas City.
He was kept in the hospital for two days before returning home.
TRENT McCOWN is a park manager with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, as well as an emergency medical technician with Anderson County. He said most people come to him when they have questions regarding snake injuries; he has been a certified EMT since 1986.
“The copperhead and the massasauge rattlesnake are two of the most common venomous snakes in the area,” he said, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
He said the venom of a copperhead can cause varying amounts of damage to its victim, but the factors include age, weight, health and the location of the bite. Also, bites can be “dry” — they release no venom — and anywhere in between.
It has been many years since there has been a fatality of any sort with a snake bite in Kansas, he said.
“The most important thing is to remain calm,” McCown said.
In most situations, he recommends immobilizing the snake bite injury and not touching it in any way. Contact and movement with the injury can cause the venom to spread. Most importantly, he said never attempt to suck the venom out of a wound — a folk-remedy perpetuated by western lore.
He did mention that any rings, bracelets or jewelry need to be removed, because swelling may lock them in place on a hand or leg.
In Gage’s case, it seemed the friends and family reacted appropriately in the face of a dire circumstance. McCown said keeping the victim calm will help slow the heart rate down, thus slowing down the spread of the venom.
While it can be helpful to capture or kill the snake for identification purposes, McCown said it is most often not worth the additional risk.
“It can help with identification, and figuring out if it’s venomous or not,” he said. “But most of the time it’s best just not to worry about it.”
He said only major metropolitan hospitals carry anti-venom, due to the cost and limited shelf life of the substance; most doctors prefer to administer the anti-venom within four hours of the bite.
FOLLOWING HIS release from the hospital, Gage was on crutches for a short time. He has made a surprisingly fast recovery, however. His bite is nothing more than a scab on his foot now.
His parents said Gage handled the situation well, and never showed any bit of panic.
“I didn’t know my kid was so tough,” Sha-Donna said.
Chris said the situation “could have been worse” if it weren’t for the quick action of friends and family, as well as the emergency personnel and doctors. He said it was also important that Gage knew so quickly what had happened to him — it expedited the process.
Gage and his father went fishing recently, he isn’t afraid of snakes, just “aware of them.” For his mother, on the other hand, is a different story.
“That was one of the most stressful situations of my life,” she said, with an exasperated look.