Puff adder just came out of nowhere, says young British tourist

2009-02-13 00:00

Two helicopters, a joint mountain and medical rescue operation and quick action by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife officials probably saved the life of British tourist Harriet Edwards after she was bitten by a puff adder in the Drakensberg on Tuesday.

Edwards (22) and her boyfriend had gone for a hike along the Tugela Gorge on Tuesday morning.

An hour-and-a-half into their hike, Edwards felt something bite her ankle. “It came out of nowhere … I didn’t see anything. I bent down to scratch my leg and saw two marks. Then it started swelling,” she said.

Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha said that judging by the distance between the fang marks on Edwards’s leg, the snake must have been more than a metre long. He said these nocturnal snakes are “slow moving and bad tempered”. Puff adders have the fastest strike rate and kill more people than any other snake in Africa.

Speaking from her bed in St Augustine’s Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, Edwards said that four hikers walking behind them came to the rescue, using cellphones to alert Ezemvelo officials.

Stephen Richert, the conservation manager at Royal Natal, immediately dispatched a helicopter, but because the two were in an area where it was very difficult to land, it took over an hour to reach her.

“My leg really hurt, but I didn’t think the worst. I suppose I am naïve. In England, we don’t have dangerous snakes. It was only when Stephen began to explain to me what had happened that I started to panic a bit,” she said.

Richert bandaged her leg tightly and asked her not to move to prevent the spread of the cytotoxic poison, which destroys cells and causes limbs to swell. According to African Wildlife, the swollen area quickly turns a blackish blue colour due to lack of blood circulation. If not treated within four hours, limbs could have to be amputated. Patients die after about 24 hours.

With the help of the pilot, Richert carried her to the helicopter, which delivered her to a nearby soccer field from where she was rushed by ambulance to Ladysmith. Netcare 911 paramedic Shaun Paul was waiting with the second chopper.

He said it was impossible to even see her toes. “She had severe pain … The venom was moving up her leg and she had slightly blurred vision.” He said that the anti-venom could not be administered until Edwards reached St Augustine’s Hospital as this is an extremely complex process.

Edwards’s leg is no longer as swollen, but she is still battling with severe double vision.

Nevertheless, she said this incident will not stop her from returning to South Africa.

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