Snake bite: Signs to seek emergency assistance

A boy named Jonathan went on a trip with his parents, and it almost ended in a fatal disaster.

Snake (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Snake (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

The vacation of the Ben Siman Tov family was interrupted when their 11-year-old son, Jonathan Zion, was bitten by a viper and developed a harsh reaction that endangered his life. "If not for the doctors from Hadassah, my son wouldn’t be alive today."

The family vacation of the Ben Siman Tov family almost ended in a terrible disaster, when their 11-year-old son Jonathan Zion was bitten by a highly venomous viper snake and only a quick response and targeted medical treatment managed to save his life. He arrived  at the hospital in critical condition, anesthetized and receiving respiratory assistance.

"We went on vacation to a B&B in the Beit Shemesh area," said Eli, Jonathan Zion's father. "One afternoon I heard screams from the yard, I ran there to see what was going on, and I saw everyone in hysterics.. My son shouted that he had been bitten by a snake, and in less than a minute he started vomiting and collapsed in front of my eyes. We immediately called Magen David Adom, who gave us instructions until the ambulance arrived, which quickly took us to the hospital.”

"It was a journey that lasted forever, during which Jonathan Zion's condition deteriorated rapidly, he was put to sleep and ventilated," the father said as he recalled the moments of panic and great concern for his son's life. "During the trip, the wonderful staff from MDA were in contact with the hospital, Hadassah Ein Kerem, and we kept updating them on the situation. I don’t have enough words to describe the first moment we got out of the ambulance. An army of doctors was waiting for my Jonathan."

Six doctors were waiting for the boy, who were prepared in advance for the arrival of a snakebite victim, including Dr. Wassim Majhad, one of whose areas of expertise is the treatment of stings and bites. 

Majhad was away from the hospital when he received the news and said he immediately understood he had to get to Hadassah as quickly as possible. 

"I was with my family at my parents' house when Shoshi, a nurse in charge of the emergency room, called to tell me an 11-year-old boy who had been bitten by a snake was receiving respiratory aid and was anesthetized and was being taken to Hadassah.  I immediately left everything and drove to the hospital quickly,” he recalled.

"While driving to the hospital, I received updates about the child and his medical condition. Based on all the symptoms he suffered from - unconsciousness, continuously vomiting and swelling in the hand, and the geographical area in which he was bitten - I consulted with Prof. Kobi Assaf, director of the department of emergency medicine and an expert in poisoning and bites, and we understood that this was an Israeli.viper.”

He added that in most cases of biting, the snake disappears fairly quickly and there is no definite identification of it, so Israel is divided into several geographical areas, the types of snakes common in that area, and the medical signs. According to this assessment the patient is given the appropriate treatment.

‘They fought with all their might for the boy’

At the hospital, the doctors immediately realized that Jonathan Zion's condition was very serious and that his reaction to the venom was acute. 

"Dr. Majhad informed us that Jonathan's vital signs were bad but that they were fighting with all their might to get my child back,” Eli Ben Siman Tov said. “I believed him. I felt we were in good hands. It was a shaky moment, we were really waiting for a miracle.”

Jonathan developed a very acute systemic reaction, swelling in the hand and blurring of consciousness, for which he was respirated. The team of doctors gave him a serum and closely followed his vital signs. 

"It was important for us in the first hours to make sure he was not developing sectional syndrome, a condition in which the swelling in the hand causes massive pressure on the blood vessels, and could stop the blood flow to that area and cause necrosis," Majhad explained. “To our relief and the family’s happiness, his vital signs improved, his blood pressure stabilized and he began to breathe on his own."  

Even after Jonathan left the emergency room and was transferred to a ward for further treatment, Majhad continued to monitor his recovery closely. 

“I was in close contact with the family and came to check on Jonathan frequently until he was released home. It was something special, I felt like he was my child,” he said. 

As a sign of thanks and gratitude, Jonathan Zion and his father came to the emergency room as a  surprise to thank Majhad and the medical staff who saved his life. 

"Dr. Majhad took Jonathan Zion right as a project," said the father. “It was his day off but he came in anyway, especially for Jonathan. He didn’t leave us for a moment. Everyone was amazing and excellent, all the doctors and all the nurses. I thank them and will thank them all my life.”

The hospital seeks to warn and raise awareness of the danger of being bitten, due to the relative multiplicity of cases, although this is usually not the season when snakes are particularly active. 

"We are seeing more bites in the months when the number of bites usually decreases," explained Assaf. “Bites usually occur in the summer and spring months, but in [the fall] this year we are seeing more bites than usual, which is probably due to the relatively warm temperatures.

“We call on all people who travel and live in open areas to be vigilant, and in case of need to immediately go to the hospital to receive medical treatment,” he said.