Michael Lovatt, Costa Rica Snake Bite Victim, Never Saw What Bit Him

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Michael Lovatt's life was saved with the help of Vancouver General Hospital doctors after he was bitten by a poisonous snake in Costa Rica. (VGH)
Michael Lovatt's life was saved with the help of Vancouver General Hospital doctors after he was bitten by a poisonous snake in Costa Rica. (VGH)

VANCOUVER - Michael Lovatt never saw his slithering assailant.

In fact, the 61-year-old British Columbia man who nearly died from a poisonous bite, didn't spot a single snake the entire month he was visiting Costa Rica.

So when he felt pain shoot through his foot two days before his vacation's end, Lovatt blamed an army of red fire ants.

But the man from Robert's Creek, on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, is now recollecting the rattling ordeal thanks to a team of sharp doctors who hustled to retrieve the antidote from a Seattle zoo and saved his life.

"If they hadn't got that anti-venom to me, my kids would have been coming to a funeral to see their dad," Lovatt said Friday during a teleconference with reporters.

"It was real scary."

Lovatt was in the Central American country for pleasure, interested in experiencing a tropical rainforest complete with howler monkeys and gigantic vegetation.

"I never saw a snake the whole time," he said.

About 8 p.m. near the end of his trip, he was walking down a gravel road with a bright flashlight when he was confronted with a three-metre carpet of red ants.

It was too wide to leap over, so he began picking his way through.

Suddenly, he felt an intense pain.

"When I put my flashlight back on my foot, I saw three red blood dots. Ow, it really hurt."

His foot was already swollen as he returned to his cottage. Very soon he was vomiting and suffering from diarrhea. Within an hour, he couldn't put weight on it.

It was a sleepless night.

On March 18, Lovatt and a friend returned the car they had rented and two people lifted him into a local hospital.

By then, his leg was swollen up to his calf.

Doctors took X-rays and gave him antibiotics and pain medicine. He was wheelchair bound but caught his flight.

At a stop-over in Houston he took a bathroom break and realized something was still very wrong.

He rushed to Vancouver General Hospital immediately on arriving back in B.C., about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"I was (still) clearly thinking. I knew this was creeping up my leg," he said. "By the time I got to Vancouver this was halfway up my thigh. I just thought, this was the right thing to do. My lips were bleeding."

That's where the medical team diagnosed the problem — a potentially-fatal attack by the bothrops snake, a venomous creature originating in Central and South America.

"I didn't learn it was a snake until I got back in Vancouver and the team ... looked at the pattern of marks on my feet," he said.

"I had no idea. It took me really by surprise."

Dr. Roy Purssell, the director of the B.C. Drug and Poison Information Centre, said on Thursday he and the doctors identified the culprit based on all of the symptoms Lovatt suffered. That included damage to his kidneys, which required dialysis, and major problems with blood clotting.

They located the stock of antidote at a Woodland Zoo in Seattle, Wash., rushing an air ambulance to pick it up.

"This was presented to me as a very serious condition. It was sliding in the wrong way really fast," Lovatt said.

"When they got that first venom into me, it turned around real fast."

The man received about 40 units of blood and blood byproducts through the first night, and soon was in the clear.

"They worked real hard, they were an excellent team."

Note to readers: CORRECTS to Central American country.

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