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Copperhead bite leads to hospital stay

Photo by Matt Griffin

Photo by Matt Griffin

CONYERS -- A Rockdale County man who was bitten on the hand by a copperhead snake Sunday said he was recovering well and hoped to be released from the hospital Thursday.

Alan DeSandre, who lives in the Deer Run subdivision in south Rockdale County, said he was tackling a number of projects in his yard when the snake struck.

"I was out cutting the grass Sunday afternoon and I finished that project, and I was all sweaty anyhow, and there were a couple of old fig trees that had died in the winter, and I thought I'd cut those down," said the 71-year-old DeSandre from his room at Rockdale Medical Center Thursday morning.

After completing that task, DeSandre turned his attention to some kudzu that was growing across the path to my wife's garden. "I was successful up to that point," he said.

DeSandre began to pull up the kudzu, and that's when the snake bit him on the top of his right hand.

"I don't know if the thing was on (the kudzu) or under it," DeSandre said. "It's just one of those mistakes you make."

The snake bite felt like a bee or hornet sting, and his hand began to bleed instantly, DeSandre said.

His wife called 911 and National EMS transported DeSandre to Rockdale Medical shortly after 3 p.m.

DeSandre was initially placed in intensive care but has since been moved to a regular room. He said he experienced swelling in his hand and arm all the way up to his armpit that doubled the size of his hand and arm. "My kids thought it was funny and said 'well, now you've got your own catcher's mitt," he joked.

By Thursday the swelling had subsided to the point that he could almost pick up a coffee cup.

DeSandre said he was given several doses of anti-venom, which affected the function of some other organs, but he is expected to make a full recovery.

Huey Atkins, director of operations for National EMS, said it was fortunate that DeSandre lives close to Rockdale Medical, because many smaller hospitals no longer stock anti-venom.

"The anti-venom is so expensive that a lot of hospitals don't carry it anymore," Atkins said. "They can't afford to keep it on the shelf because they have to replace it when it expires."

During transport to the hospital Atkins said EMTs work to keep snake-bite victims calm and cool.

"You don't want to get the patient excited because you don't want to increase their heart rate and circulation," Atkins said. "They used to have kits where you would try to remove the venom, but they found that really you weren't removing that much of the venom."

According to snakefactsonline.com, the copperhead snake is one of the most common varieties found in the eastern United States. The snakes are characterized by the tan color of the back and sides, the copper color of the head and the dark colored bands across the sides and back. According to the website, the copperhead typically grows to 24-36 inches in length. The copperhead's bite is less dangerous than some other venomous snakes and rarely leads to death.

DeSandre said copperheads are commonly seen in Deer Run, which includes a creek and lake. He said he's seen some big ones in his yard as well as smaller ones run over in the street in the 30 years he's lived there. DeSandre said he has no fondness for snakes and generally tries to avoid them.

"My wife has killed several over the years in our yard," he said. "She's the snake killer."