KZN woman survives two venomous snake attacks in one week

2016-04-08 14:33
Trauma doctor Dr Kevin McEwen with Mitzi Hazell, who is recovering in hospital (Supplied to News24)

Trauma doctor Dr Kevin McEwen with Mitzi Hazell, who is recovering in hospital (Supplied to News24)

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Durban - A KwaZulu-Natal woman has cheated death twice – surviving encounters with a Mozambican Spitting Cobra and a Black Mamba - in the space of a week. Both close encounters left her fighting for her life.

- Health24: Snake bites: what to do

April 1 will be forever etched in the memory of 55-year-old Mitzi Hazell of Inchanga as the day her neighbours and a team of doctors rallied around her.

After a harrowing encounter with a 2.2m long Black Mamba, which bit her last Friday, a grateful Hazell is counting her blessings as she talks about the incident from her hospital bed in ICU at Durban’s Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, where she is receiving treatment.

Had it not been for the support of her neighbours and the expertise of seasoned trauma doctor, Dr Kevin McEwen, she would not have been around to tell her story.

Her neighbours had rushed her from her Inchanga home to the hospital in the city centre, a frantic 40km journey, in just nine minutes.

'Her eyes were drooping'

It was the second time in less than a week that neighbour Elthea Coffee had stepped in to help get Hazell to hospital, following an encounter with a Mozambican Spitting Cobra just days before.

On that occasion, Coffee had taken her to the local hospital to have her eyes flushed and treated to prevent blindness after the snake spat venom into her eyes.

Hazell came face-to-face with a Black Mamba days later. 

She had been checking on her prized show rabbits when she came across the highly aggressive 2.2m-long predator which bit her on the leg.

The snake had seemingly slid into the rabbit enclosure for a little shade on a hot, 35°C day.

In a statement, Dr McEwen said Hazell had arrived at the hospital with paralysis already set in.

"Her eyes were drooping and she was having difficulty talking. She also could not walk. When the Black Mamba bites, it injects a highly toxic, fast-acting neurotoxic poison into the body of the victim, which goes straight to the nerves, attacking the central nervous system.

"One of the first signs of paralysis is drooping eyes and double vision. This is followed by difficulty in speaking as the patient can no longer use the tongue to articulate words. Difficulty in breathing follows," he said.   

'Not out of the woods yet'

Being fully prepared for Hazell’s arrival, the medical team immediately commenced treatment. She was given five ampoules of antivenin serum while her vitals, including blood pressure and heart rate, were constantly monitored.

"She recalls nothing of what transpired during the first few hours of the treatment," said McEwan.

"She does, however, remember hearing my name and that I constantly asked if she could speak, open her eyes and swallow, as this would be a sure sign that the paralysis was being successfully countered by the antivenom."

"We were not out of the woods yet. One of the greatest risks associated with the administering of high dosages of antivenom, which was necessary in this instance, is the ensuing anaphylactic reaction. If not monitored and carefully managed, this can result in a very serious allergic reaction, similar to that which would be experienced by someone who is highly allergic to bee stings," he said.

By Monday, Hazell was left feeling stiff and sore, while her joints were quite inflamed. She was starting to question why the Black Mamba ended up in the rabbit enclosure.

"There really seems to be a big snake plague in the Inchanga area at the moment and I would like to warn the public to be careful. Black Mambas can be very aggressive when encountered. My advice to the public would be to allow such snakes to move away and not confront them.

"The number of snakes we are seeing at the moment could be attributable to the heat and the fact that the snakes could be readying themselves for hibernation," she said.

- Health24: Dangerous snakes

Read more on:    durban  |  animals

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