North Carolina Man Loses Fingers, Almost Dies, After Venomous Viper Attack

A North Carolina man lost several fingers after he was bitten by a Gaboon viper—one of the most venomous snakes in the world.

The man had to be treated with 44 bottles of antivenom over the course of a week, which is double what is used for a standard snake bite.

The Gaboon viper is native to sub-Saharan Africa and has the highest venom yield of all venomous snakes. Its fangs are two inches long, and bites are fatal if not treated immediately.

The man from Wilmington was bitten while caring for the snake, WAVY reported. Following the bite, the man was immobilized and his blood was no longer clotting, a typical side-effect.

A paramedic and a doctor based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina were called to help the man as they both had knowledge of venomous snakes. Bites from a Gaboon viper are rare, but Dr. Jarratt Lark told WAVY that patients "often don't survive."

Lark said: "He was tightrope-walking on the lethal side of 'would he even survive this envenomation' at that point."

The man spent months in the hospital, receiving dialysis and physical therapy. After losing a few fingers during the ordeal, he is now back to living a normal life, WAVY reported.

Fingers are sometimes lost following severe snake bites, but it is rare. It depends on the amount of venom administered in the bite, and how badly it has damaged body tissue.

Despite their potent venom, Gaboon vipers have a placid nature and very rarely bite humans. If they do bite, it is usually because they were harassed and had no opportunity to get away. The viper can also control how much venom it injects, meaning some bites are not venomous at all.

The first responders consulted a doctor in Colorado, who goes to Africa frequently, for advice on how to treat the bite. The doctor said, from what he has seen in the field, "this is going to be the worst Gaboon bite that's ever survived."

"He adapts to his disability, and he's very functional," Lark told WAVY. "Right now, he works two jobs, back to his baseline, activity level and everything."

"He's truly a miracle to be alive and to be as functional as he is," Lark told WMBF news.

Gaboon viper
A stock photo shows a gaboon viper. Their venom is deadly, but bites are rare as they are a shy, and elusive species Mark Kostich/Getty Images

Paramedic Thad Bowman previously worked at the Alligator Adventure Animal Park in North Myrtle Beach, and had access to the antivenom medication at the time.

"We've dealt with exotic bites in the past, but nothing to this extent," Bowman told WMBF news

The Myrtle Beach Fire Department presented Lark and Bowman with a Civilian Life Saving Award following the incident.