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Rattler Bite Leaves Child Hospitalized

Wildlife: Boy, not quite 2, is in intensive care unit after strike by baby pit viper on patio at home. The snakes are rarely seen in winter, officials say.

January 20, 1998|ROBERT GAMMON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — A 21-month-old Thousand Oaks boy remained hospitalized Monday in an intensive care unit after he was bitten by a baby rattlesnake.

Jacob Staitman was listed in fair condition at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, a hospital spokeswoman said.

On Sunday afternoon, a 15-inch pit viper sank its fangs into the boy's hand as he crawled on the patio at his family's home in the 1600 block of Camberwell Place in Thousand Oaks, said Deputy Greg Chase, chief of the sheriff's rescue team.

Within minutes of the 1:20 p.m. snakebite, an emergency helicopter landed in a grassy strip between the Staitmans' home and a small creek near Lake Sherwood, Chase said.

The child was flown to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, Chase said. The 30-pound boy was later transferred to Cottage Hospital's pediatric center for further treatment.

The snake was killed at the scene and taken along with Jacob so toxicology tests could be performed, Chase said.

The presence of a rattlesnake, especially a baby one, surprised local officials, because the poisonous reptiles usually remain in their dens during the winter, said county Fire Capt. Richard Dyatt.

"It's very strange for one to be out this time of year," he said, noting that snakes are more often seen in spring and summer.

Jacob's condition has been upgraded from serious to fair since the bite, but it worried emergency officials because baby rattlers "often will give a full shot of venom" when they strike, Dyatt said.

Last July, Hannah McKee, an 11-month-old Simi Valley girl, was bitten on the leg by a baby rattlesnake as she bounced in her walker in the backyard of her family's home on Hempstead Street.

Hannah's parents immediately drove their daughter to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where she underwent surgery and spent 14 days in recovery.

On Monday, Hannah's mother, Kathryn, said the snakebite was a harrowing experience for the family, but her daughter "is now fully recovered and chasing her sister."

The small rattlesnake was found a week after it struck Hannah, and it was killed by the family gardener, McKee said.

Robert Song, a neighbor of the Staitmans' on Camberwell Place, said Monday that rattlesnake sightings are uncommon on the cul-de-sac.

"I've lived here for 30 years; I remember seeing only one on this street," Song said.

Another neighbor, Ginny Faulconer, recalled a close call she had with a rattlesnake several years ago.

"It was in the summertime and I had opened both doors to our home, and it just slithered in and stretched out along the floor," unseen, she said.

The serpent spent the night inside, and Faulconer said that when she awoke the next morning, "I saw it and freaked out."

Faulconer's husband chased the snake out of the house and killed it with a garden hoe. But the thought of having had a viper in her house stuck with Faulconer.

"That was a frightening experience," she said. "I looked under my bed for two to three weeks after that."

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, an estimated 45,000 snakebites occur each year in the United States. Of those, 7,000 are from venomous snakes, and about a dozen people die each year from snakebites.

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