By VICTORIA VILLANUEVA-MARQUEZ
NORTH PORT – Earl Hjertstedt was building a fence outside the Atlanta Braves spring training stadium Saturday when he felt a slap on his leg.
Hjertstedt, who works as a land surveyor, looked down at an open patch of grass before hearing an unmistakable rattle.
He stepped away from the area and began to scream: “I’ve been bit. I’ve been bit.”
A rattlesnake was the culprit.
The pain shot through his skin, he remembers. It felt “warm and tingly,” and quickly began to move to his hands.
Hjertstedt felt disoriented. He felt almost as if he had fallen, though he knew he hadn’t.
He looked at his leg, and noticed it had begun to swell.
Meanwhile, the pain continued to grow more intense.
He struggled to walk normally, and it seemed to take a long time for him to reach the road near CoolToday Park in the West Villages, where a co-worker would help him get into a truck and drive him to the nearest hospital.
“I was telling him, ‘Go as fast as you can. Go as fast as you can. Go. Go. Go,’” Hjertstedt said. “I was focusing on my breathing, drinking the Coke can that was next to me thinking it might get my heart rate going, breathing out the window. I was really frightened.”
After he arrived to the hospital, he learned there were not enough vials of antivenom available to treat his injuries.
Hjertstedt was then rushed to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where he received 26 vials of antivenom. His wife, Diahanna, said they learned from a toxicologist that it takes an average of 12 vials to treat a snake bite.
Hjertstedt has had two surgeries, and will have another today. The first relieved the increased pressure on his leg, and the second examined how many of his muscles were now dead, his wife said.
The third surgery will remove the dead muscles, she noted.
Diahanna, who is nine months pregnant, said she felt a pit in her stomach when another person called from her husband’s phone. She rushed to the hospital, but had yet to find out what had happened.
She said learning that he may not have a normal walk again has been the most traumatizing part of the entire experience.
“Life gives you situations that you cannot explain, and the best thing to do is pray,” she said. “We have tremendous support. I don’t know what we would do without family right now.”
Hjertstedt, a Sarasota resident, will be placed in the same hospital room as Diahanna when she delivers their child.
Within the same week that Hjertstedt was taken to the hospital, a North Port postal worker was also treated for snake bite injuries that happened in a facility along Tamiami Trail.
Jeremy Lund, a toxicology clinical pharmacy specialist at the hospital, said he believes the snake in that case was a pit viper, although it is unknown.
He noted the postal worker has since been discharged from the hospital.
While snake bites are rare, Lund recommends people who have been injured avoid panicking and remove themselves from the situation. If possible, he suggests taking a photo of the snake, which can help with identification.
He emphasized the fact people should not attempt to kill the snake, which only puts someone else at risk of being bitten.
Lund urges anyone who has been bitten to visit an emergency room, and attempt to immobilize the injured limb.
He added that people should remove any jewelry on the limb, noting that a ring could get constricted on a finger once the swelling occurs.