ODENVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — With all of Alabama’s natural beauty often comes critters, especially snakes. One local woman now knows that all too well after recovering from getting bitten by a copperhead not once but twice in her own front yard.
“I felt a prick, maybe like a thorn had scraped up against me or something, and I stepped back, and it happened again,” Raela Wheat said.
Wheat is a mortgage broker who left Birmingham for Odenville, Alabama, in the pandemic for a supposedly simpler life. And it was simpler — until she found herself facing the business end of a snake on a walk with her dogs before bed one night in September.
Pain instantly shot through her foot all the way to her hip. In seconds, she couldn’t move her toes, and her leg was swelling fast.
“Really excruciating pain,” Wheat said.
When she bent down, she came face to face with the perpetrator: a copperhead.
She called 911 and was rushed to the nearest hospital where she was given antivenom immediately. She spent three days in the ICU, wondering if she would lose her leg — let alone walk down the aisle in her wedding in November.
“It’s absolutely the most terrifying feeling … If that [venom] had made it up to my abdomen, I wouldn’t be here talking to you,” Wheat said.
Her fiancé killed the snake with a shovel and brought it to the hospital with them to help doctors identify the poison.
After five days, she was discharged, and the hospital connected her with the UAB and Children’s of Alabama’s new comprehensive snakebite program where Wheat met with Dr. William Rushton, the co-director.
“We consult on almost every snake bite throughout the state of Alabama no matter what hospital they’re admitted to,” Dr. Rushton said.
He added that the program is one of the first of its kind in the country. Snakebites are a major concern in Alabama, but most people don’t realize they can also cause lingering and even permanent health problems.
“What we’re trying to do is get people to perform their daily activities quicker and treat a lot of the persistent wounds, a lot of the persistent swelling that people can get after a snakebite,” Rushton said.
Wheat said she’s thankful for the program’s help and her family’s support. She still suffers from nerve pain, but she’s excited to be back walking and more than ready to get married in a month.
“There was a lot of people praying for me, and every doctor that I’ve talked to didn’t expect me to be walking around this soon,” Wheat said.
But she is changing her footwear for the front yard.
“I’m gonna wear boots from now on,” Wheat said, laughing.
According to the program, dying from a snakebite in Alabama is extremely rare. The most common bites doctors see are from copperheads and cottonmouths. To avoid snakes, Dr. Rushton said to avoid sticking your hands near holes in the ground and to wear thick pants and boots if you’re near the woods.
If you do get bitten, call 911 immediately, and make note of what kind of snake bit you. Rushton emphasized under no circumstances suck out the poison with your mouth, and don’t put ice or use a tourniquet around the bite — those can make the bite worse.
To learn more about the program, click here.