Snakebite scare on family picnic

JackFive-year-old Jack Purvis is lucky to be alive after he suffered a vicious snake bite while playing with his sister by the river at Nyngan, a small town in central New South Wales.

Jack’s parents were picnicking at a party organised by work when their son ran up and said something had bitten him. Minutes later five year old Jack was complaining he felt sick and dizzy.

He had blurred vision and a buzzing noise in his ears. “It all happened so quickly,” says Jack’s horrified mum, Brenda.

Local ambulance staff rushed to the scene, applied a pressure immobilisation bandage then took the family to Nyngan District Hospital.

“Jack was looking stiff and pale then suddenly his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he was vomiting blood,” recalls Brenda, still shaken by the experience.

Jack’s symptoms were typical of a serious snake bite. Staff at Nyngan Hospital immediately rang the aeromedical retrieval service who scrambled the RFDS.

Dr Marc Schnekenburger, chief medical officer at the Flying Doctor Base in Dubbo, took off armed with vials of brown snake antivenom and polyvalent but before he could arrive Jack’s condition quickly worsened.

With his young body rapidly shutting down medical staff in Nyngan had no choice but to administer the only dose of antivenom they had.

Working with doctors in Sydney via a video link they gave Jack the antivenom and worried mum Brenda anxiously watched her son for signs of life.

As soon as he arrived Dr Schnekenburger checked Jack’s blood markers with a portable iStat device, an essential piece of equipment which is carried on all RFDS aircraft.

Satisfied it was safe to do so, he took the bandage off Jack’s leg and found two clear bite marks on his ankle.

“It was a grave situation and we were in constant touch with NETS, the on-call toxicologist and the admitting paediatrician, Dr Fitzgerald, to decide the best course of action.”

With Jack responding well to the dose of antivenom the RFDS flew him and his mum to hospital in Dubbo, where blood results showed clear signs of coagulopathy.

“Coagulopathy can result in life-threatening bleeding and is a leading cause of death in human snake bite. It explains why Jack was vomiting blood at Nyngan,” says Dr Schnekenburger. Jack spent another two days in hospital recovering from his ordeal.

Mum Brenda is now far more alert to the possibility of snake bites.

“The RFDS doctor told me that if Jack hadn’t lost consciousness the venom would have spread through his system too quickly and he would have died. It’s a horrifying thought,” she adds.

“The medical staff in Nyngen, Dubbo, Sydney and at the RFDS were outstanding and I will be forever grateful to them all. Jack wouldn’t be here today without them, it’s as simple as that.”

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About Royal Flying Doctor

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been serving the Australian community for over 85 years. From humble beginnings in 1928, the RFDS now ha
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