A typical summer afternoon at the creek quickly turned into a nightmare situation for 12-year-old Cecillia Gonzalez, of Dawsonville, when a rattlesnake bit her on Aug. 12. Cecillia was bitten twice by the timber rattler and spent more than three days in the ICU of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.
“It didn’t rattle or anything,” said Cecillia. “I didn’t even see it before it bit me.”
Cecillia was playing with friends near Kelly Bridge Road in Dawson County when she slipped and fell on a bank near the water’s edge.
“I slipped, and my foot went down into a hole in a tree,” said Cecillia. “It felt like something poked me on the foot. I didn’t realize I had been bit until after I saw the snake.”
Cecillia was bitten twice on top of her left foot by a timber rattlesnake that was curled up inside the hole in the tree. Her friends called 911 and rushed her back to their nearby home.
Her mother, Chrissie Sanders, soon got a call that her daughter was being taken to a hospital.
“I just thought she would get some antivenom and be fine, but then I got a call saying that she was having an allergic reaction to the venom and needed to be life-flighted to Atlanta,” said Chrissie.
The bite caused a full-body reaction, and swelling quickly increased as emergency workers rushed Cecillia to Atlanta.
By the time Cecillia arrived at the hospital, her airways were almost swelled shut. Doctors had to sedate her and insert a breathing tube as they administered antivenom.
“She had to have 24 antivenoms during her stay at the hospital,” said Chrissie. “They said she was finally in stable condition by Sunday night, and we got to go home.”
Cecillia returned to the doctor the following week for routine bloodwork as part of treatment for the bite. Just when it seemed her daughter was out of the woods, Chrissie received another call with more bad news.
“Her bloodwork came back, and they called and said we needed to get her to the hospital right then because her blood was very thin,” said Chrissie. “They had to give her four more antivenoms to get her blood back to normal.”
Cecillia stayed in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit for three days before finally being released on Aug. 25. She is still undergoing routine bloodwork.
Steve Scruggs, who is known as “The Snake Master,” said Cecillia likely received a heavy dose of venom from the rattler.
“The first bite was likely what we call a ‘dry bite,’ meaning the snake did not put any venom into her,” said Steve. “He loaded her up on the second bite.”
Steve Scruggs has more than 50 years of experience working with venomous snakes, and he points out many risks regarding snakebites that people are typically unaware of.
“Never use a tourniquet on a snakebite,” said Steve. “If you do, you’ll end up losing that limb. What is effective is tightly wrapping the limb above and below the bite area with bandaging tape or wrap. This has been proven to hold the venom in that area and prevent it from spreading.”
Steve also noted that snakebite victims should be weary of emergency treatment methods.
“A lot of doctors and EMTs don’t know how to properly treat snakebites because they are not very common,” said Steve. “Do not ever let them lay you down after you’ve been bit. If you elevate the bite area, you’ll only be spreading the venom faster. Also, don’t ever try to suck the venom out of a bite because if you have any kind of sore or cut in your mouth, you’re a dead man.”
Chrissie says her daughter is still recovering from the bite and hopes to soon be back at school and on the softball field.
“She still has to go back for blood work to make sure her blood stays normal,” said Chrissie. “She has a couple more weeks to go before she is cleared.”