By Pat McNamara
Santiago Padilla is back riding his bike after being bitten by a Mohave rattlesnake in Rain Valley
Photo credit: Pat McNamara

On the evening of April 27, six-year-old Santiago Padilla, of Elgin, stepped off his horse at a Rain Valley roping party and stepped on to his bicycle. Little did he know that his changing ‘mounts’, would be a near fatal decision for him. 

As Santiago rode his bike around the yard, he lost control and ran into the side of the house, his bike falling and depositing him on a Mohave rattlesnake. When he saw the snake, he ran to his mother, Regina Padilla, to tell her that there was a snake by the house. His mother asked if the snake bit him, but he didn’t know. There was no pain, but Santiago did mention that he saw fangs and his knee felt tingly. Regina quickly checked him and saw the fang marks, then shouted for his father, Steve, to come. 

Since it was faster to drive for help than wait for the ambulance, they loaded Santiago into their truck and raced to the fire station, calling 911 to alert them of the details. All the way there, Santiago kept begging his mother, “I don’t want to die! Please don’t let me die!” 

Upon their arrival at the station, Santiago experienced an allergic reaction to the venom, vomiting and foaming at his nose and mouth. His heart stopped and when his mother touched him, she said that his arm felt “stiff and hard.” 

The EMTs intubated and stabilized him while they awaited the arrival of the helicopter for transport to UMC where a team of over twenty doctors were preparing to treat him.

Rattlesnakes are always dangerous, but the Mohave is the most lethal of the North American vipers. Its poison is classified as a neurotoxin. This type of venom can cause an adult body to start shutting down within 18 to 20 minutes. 30-pound Santiago was not just shutting down, and his allergic reaction made the bite even more challenging to treat. 

Fortunately, UMC had just imported some anti-venom from Mexico in April that had been formulated for scorpion stings. It had been found to be an effective treatment for Mohave bites as well. Santiago was given the scorpion anti-venom when he arrived that Saturday, then a dose of rattlesnake anti-venom on Monday morning. 

At the hospital, Santiago was unconscious and unable to breath on his own so was put on a ventilator in the ICU from that Saturday afternoon until later Sunday afternoon. He was then stable enough and breathing on his own to have the tube removed. Monday, at 6:30 a.m., he regained consciousness, saw his mother, Regina and said; “Mommy, Mommy, I didn’t die!” He then asked; “Does Jesus have a beard?” His mother said that she thought he did. Then Santiago said, “I saw him and he had his arms open, then he threw magic sprinkles on me”. 

The following day, physical therapists arrived with a wheelchair and crutches to help Santiago get out of bed for the first time, but he just stepped down from the bed and easily walked without any aid. This was a surprise to the medical professionals as they usually see patients have a much more difficult time recovering from Mohave bites, as the poison is so devastating to the neurological system. 

Research is showing that the Mohave rattlesnakes have sometimes possessed both neurotoxic and hemotoxic venoms so the reactions to the bites can vary. One can be bitten by a Mohave and experience no pain or swelling at the site of the wound as Santiago did but still be in grave danger. However, if the poison has both properties, the site of the bite can become very swollen and very painful and then one is sure that a bite did actually occur. Immediate treatment is imperative to prevent further tissue and neurological damage and/ or death. 

The average hospital stay following Mohave bites is three weeks. Santiago remained in ICU for just five days. Since he was showing no adverse effects, it was decided to discharge him and do follow up bloodwork and exams for the next 15 days. 

Santiago is back on his bicycle, out riding his horse and graduated with his kindergarten class at the Elgin Elementary School. His friends and family are calling him a miracle boy for his fast and, at this point, uneventful recovery. 

The offending snake’s fate is not so positive, however. It was dispatched at the time of the incident and is currently resting in the family’s freezer, awaiting processing. The plan is to turn its remains into a commemoration of the near fatal event for which it was responsible. 

There is a Gofundme page that has been set up to help with Santiago’s medical expenses. Visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/kbby89-helpingsantiago for more information.