Rattlesnake battle, toddler wins

By Monica Lambert
Special to the Sun

Photo courtesy of Kelly Harris
Levi “the Legend” Harris smiles while recovering from a rattlesnake bite.

Saturday, May 11, was just like any other Saturday at home, in RiverKern, for Kelly Harris. The kids were playing. Levi, who is just 18 months old, was on the porch. Then the unimaginable happened. Kelly heard Levi screaming. She discovered her baby boy just steps away from the front porch, and he’d been bitten on the hand by a baby rattlesnake.

Kelly and her husband, Jesse, rushed Levi to Fire Station 76 in Kernville.

Jesse said, “The decision was based on speeding up time to reach EMS. I was trying to beat the turnaround time for the ambulance to come all the way out to my house, and then have to return the same route. By doing so, we potentially saved 20 minutes of crucial time. Firefighters from station 76 monitored the venom movement up his arm, as well as monitored his vitals. They provided excellent service.”

Liberty Ambulance transported them to Kern Valley Healthcare District, where Levi received anti-venom about one and a half hours after being bitten, well under the crucial 6 hour mark. Because a building thunderstorm prevented flying Levi to the Children’s Hospital in Fresno, he was taken by ambulance to Lauren Small Children’s/Memorial Hospital in Bakersfield.

As long as Levi continued to respond positively to treatment, they could keep him in Bakersfield. By midnight, and the dawning of Mother’s Day, Levi had received 16 vials of Anti-venom and his blood work was showing improvement.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Harris
On day 2, Levi’s hand had developed a large blister.

“We were not out of the woods yet, but Levi was doing the best he could be under the circumstances. My husband I were humbled by everyone’s outpouring of messages and support,” said Kelly.

The burn unit doctors examined Levi’s hand. They lanced some of the blisters caused by the venom/swelling and wrapped his hand. A plastic surgeon came in the afternoon to map out a treatment plan. Anti-venom, also known as antivenin, venom antiserum and antivenom immunoglobulin, is a medication made from antibodies which is used to treat certain venomous bites and stings. They are recommended only when there is significant toxicity or a high risk of toxicity.

“Levi was still stable,” said Kelly. “The doctors tried to back off the anti-venom, but his swelling increased so they went back to the full dosage. He had received 22 vials at that point. Levi had increased swelling in his arm and blisters around the bite. The doctors and nurses took excellent care of him.”

By the next day, Mother’s Day, Levi had received 28 vials of anti-venom, and his swelling began to go down as doctors monitored him closely. “He is stable but has some recovery ahead of him,” said Jesse in a Facebook update. “It was reassuring to see our little Levi’s funny personality for a bit.”

By May 15, Levi’s pain level showed drastic improvement. He had a burst of energy, and, according to mom, had a mini-war with all his monitoring equipment. He was moved from PICU (Pediatric ICU) down to the Pediatric unit.

On May 16, Levi had a quick surgery to clean up his hand and hopefully minimize scar tissue in his fingers. The poison caused him to be anemic, and he needed to continue to be monitored with lab work. Although surgery went as planned, and Kelly updated that Levi’s hand should recover fully, it was not without incident.

“During post-op care, Levi briefly stopped breathing,” said Kelly. “They were able to do cardiac massage and had him breathing again quickly. Yes, this made that day the worst day of my life. I hope no parent ever has to experience that.”

On May 17, Levi started the day pale and very lethargic. His midnight labs revealed another drop in his red cell count. These low numbers cause anemia and are a common result of the rattlesnake venom. His doctors decided to go ahead with a blood transfusion. Immediately after unhooking from him the IV he regained some color and energy. He tried to escape the room and enjoyed waving “bye” to the nurses all day. They did a blood draw to see where his counts were post transfusion.

The next day, the burn team taught Kelly and Jesse how to change the dressing on his hand. They had their first look at his hand since surgery.

Kelly updated, “Nothing bad happened today! Levi’s labs are showing improvement and no declines. His body will take time to get back to normal and his hand will look awful, but he will fully recover. He continues to make a name for himself here with the nursing staff. He is the talk of the town, so to speak, Levi the Legend!”

On May 18, the family went home. “We monitor Levi closely because his blood is still repairing itself,” said Kelly. “Since getting home, we have analyzed our property with new eyes, and we have work to do to mitigate snake habitat,” she added.

“We hope that by sharing our story, it will be a constant reminder to keep on the lookout for rattlesnakes no matter what season it is,” said Kelly.

Levi continues improving since going home. A minor swelling scare caused Kelly to drive him to Bakersfield in case it persisted, but they were able to return home with no more ER trips. The following day, Levi had his first checkup with the burn team, and his bloodwork came back normal.

In an update, Kelly and Jesse noted that Levi’s hand had been bandaged to help protect his new skin. He also showed decent finger movement in his affected hand, but would be participating in physical therapy to improve his long-term hand dexterity.

Kelly and Jesse wanted to thank the kind folks at Life Church who brought meals while the family regains equilibrium. Additionally, they would like to thank Kern County Fire Department Station 76, as well as the staff of Liberty Ambulance and Kern Valley Hospital who provided excellent service and professionalism, as well as a sense of calm during a stressful and emotional time for them.