Joe and Hope Seamon were packing up the family Monday after camping at Thurmond Lake when their 5-year-old son, Kessler, cried out.
“The next thing we know he starts screaming bloody murder,” Hope said.
“He started screaming that it was a snake,” Joe said.
It had bitten Kessler, who was wearing flip-flops, on his right big toe.
While Joe corralled the 2-foot-long snake, Hope ran to get the park ranger, who identified it as a copperhead.
“You’re at the lake. What do you do? Where do you go?” Hope said.
The North Augusta family sped to Doctors Hospital and along the way the poisonous snake’s bite started taking effect.
“By the time we got here his foot was swollen,” Hope said.
“Twice the size it was,” Joe said.
Half the foot had turned light blue.
The venom already was causing swelling and fluid to leak out of the tissue so it was necessary to put a long slit in the foot to relieve the pressure, said Dr. Richard Cartie, the director of pediatric critical care services at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors, where Kessler was still receiving treatment Wednesday.
“If there is too much pressure, then the arteries are cut off from supplying the blood,” Cartie said. “That’s actually a rare occurrence to have to do that type of procedure, especially on a child. Usually, antivenom is enough.”
Copperheads are slightly less venomous than other poisonous snakes but the antivenom used to treat those bites is based on a rattlesnake model – which is in the same family of snakes – so it is not a perfect match. Kessler received four rounds of the antivenom and seemed to be fine Wednesday, calmly flipping through a coloring book in his room at the burn center.
This is the time of year when juvenile snakes – like the one that bit Kessler – are out and about and behaving in “stupid” ways that adult snakes generally do not, Cartie said.
“They are more likely to strike without a warning,” he said.
Juveniles are more likely than adults to bite and latch on and dump all of their venom, Cartie said. A bigger dose of venom means more damage.
Fortunately for Kessler, the damage appears to be limited, his parents said. The plan is to sew up at least part of the incision Thursday and slough off any dead skin and tissue, Joe said.
“The hope is that it will heal itself,” Hope said. “I guess the worst-case scenario would be a skin graft.”
The family says it feels fortunate it has turned out so well and hopes this will serve as a wake-up call to other parents.
“Our hope is that people will open their eyes a little bit more and see what is out there, because this scenario could have gone in a whole different direction,” Hope said.
The key is to seek attention quickly, Cartie said.
“It’s basically all about time,” he said. “The sooner you can start the antivenom, the better.”