A snake venom producer in the Lowveld gave his last ten vials of snake antivenom to the Mediclinic Nelspruit to help save the life of a two-year-old girl who was bitten by a snake shortly before.
Chris Hobkirk’s Lowveld Venom Suppliers (LVS) says the hospital approached him on Thursday, urgently looking for antidote because they themselves had no stock available. Little Naomie Hattingh, who will be three years old in June, has already shown severe neurotoxic symptoms.
Hobkirk says that is normally an indication that she was probably bitten by either a cobra or a mamba.
“If someone calls me and says there is a patient who is dying, I’m obviously going to give them my stock,” says Hobkirk about the precious vials.
LVS milks snakes daily whose venom is then used by the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) in the production of snake antivenom. However, due to the danger associated with the milk of the snakes, Hobkirk has to keep a stock of antidote himself.
He usually has ten ampoules of polyvalent antivenom, which are used for most poisonous snake bites, as well as an ampoule of monovalent antivenom, which is only used for the bite of a tree snake.
“I can not NO do not have antidote; if something happens at the laboratory, it can end tragically,” he says.
“But I was the only facility provider with antidote in the entire Lowveld.”
Little Naomie’s mother, Marica Eckert, says the school informed her on Thursday afternoon that something had bitten the toddler. Naomie signaled to a teacher that her right hand hurt, and initially the suspicion might have been a bee sting.
The family’s GP prescribed antibiotics after an examination.
However, Naomie’s symptoms quickly worsened, says Eckert. Her heartbeat accelerated more and more, Naomie started to vomit badly, experienced excruciating pain and had difficulty breathing.
It was therefore decided to urgently take her by ambulance from Barberton, where the family lives, to Mbombela for specialist treatment.
Eckert says that unfortunately she could not give any description of the snake to doctors. After a search at the school – the snake apparently quickly chose the hare path – they were able to determine that it was a smallish snake, presumably with a silver-grey belly.
Naomie was forced to be put on ventilation and thanks to Hobkirk’s stock, she could quickly be treated with snake antivenom.
The little girl has since been transferred from the intensive care unit to the pediatric ward, where she is still being monitored.
The ventilation pipes have also already been removed and Naomie is up and awake, says her mother. However, her hand is still very swollen.
“You don’t realize how serious a snake bite is until it hits you. It is an ugly thing. I have heard of children dying from snake bites. You have no understanding of that shock until it happens to you,” says Eckert.
She has only praise for the medics who treated Naomie and LVS who did everything possible to help.
In the meantime, Hobkirk has forced production at the laboratory to be suspended until the vials of snake antivenom can be replaced and LVS can start milking snakes again.
There have been for the past few months warned about an impending disaster due to a shortage of snake antivenom, although the NHLS keep up there is no reason to panic. A total of 27 experts in the treatment of snakebites have, however, written an open letter to Dr. sent Health Minister Joe Phaahla pleading for intervention.
Hobkirk says it is pure nonsense that there is no shortage of snake antidote.
“There is a big problem, a catastrophic problem.”
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