'Never even saw him': Central Florida woman nearly dies after being bitten by enormous snake

TJ Hoppes lives in a wooded area just north of High Springs in Alachua County.

On June 1st, she was out raking around a rock, when she felt a pain she described as worse than childbirth.

"I never saw him. I never heard him," said Hoppes.

She said she felt a horrible pain, looked down, and saw an enormous snake with long fangs embedded in her hand.

"Immediately it starts swelling. And then my lips go numb," she recalled. It goes up, and I can feel my nose going up, and it's going to my ears. My feet are going numb. My fingers are going numb."

She met up with the paramedics on Highway 18. They took her to a helicopter, which flew her to Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

"My blood pressure bottomed out," Hoppes said. "I about died, basically about died and then came back. So here I am, thank God."

Venomous snake bites are less common than you might think – fewer than 1 in 37,000 people are bitten in the US on average each year, according to the CDC.

Dr. David A. Muerer is a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida and works in emergency medicine, pre-hospital medicine, and environmental medicine at UF Health, the hospital where TJ healed up. He says one reason snake bites are fairly rare is that humans are not considered a food source for the reptiles.

"Snakes prefer not to interact with humans. The whole reason rattlesnakes have rattles is to give you a warning so you don't step on them."

And thanks to anti-venin, deaths are rare.

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You’re 9 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than a snake bite, according to UF IFAS.

But death isn’t the only risk.

"You can lose a limb. It's very, very uncomfortable," said Dr. Meurer. "The venom is trying to digest your tissue."

Florida has six species of venomous snakes: copperheads, cottonmouths, coral snakes, and three types of rattlesnakes.

Coral snakes have one type of anti-venin; the rest on that list, the pit vipers, have another.

The doctors at Shands Hospital gave TJ 20 doses of the pit viper anti-venom.

Dr. Muerur says that’s normal.

 "I would recommend that anybody who was bitten by a snake and had any concern was venomous, and they be evaluated immediately in an emergency department."

After six days in the hospital, TJ was allowed to go back home.

But she’s still got a long road ahead of her.

"My finger is still swollen and I have this huge blister thing that won't go away," she said.

Surgeons also had to perform what’s called a fasciotomy to relieve pressure.

"They had to cut it and cut it and cut it," she recalled.

Her other arm is in pretty bad shape too. Snake venom can mess with your blood coagulation, so she says doctors had a tough time finding veins for an IV. She’s left with intense bruising across her arm.

Healing from the mental trauma of all this is going to take a long time too.

"It's very emotional. Traumatizing. Every time I close my eyes, I see that snake turn to bite me. So that's a little tough. I to deal with that," said Hoppes. "It changes your whole outlook. And I'm grateful to be alive."

One good thing to come out of this is that while the surgeons were operating on TJ’s hand, they noticed she had carpal tunnel syndrome, so they went ahead and fixed that while they were already operating on her.

Dr.  Meurer says there are lots of myths surrounding treatment for snake bites. He said, don’t try to suck the venom out. Do not try to apply a tourniquet, and don’t try icing the wound. Just get to the hospital as quickly as possible.