Her right leg burned the night of Aug. 3 as Avoree Siler, 21, propped her foot on the dashboard of her boyfriend's speeding Mustang.
Her boyfriend, C.J. Brown, was driving 155 miles an hour from Niles toward Salina, wanting to get Avoree to Salina Regional Health Center as quickly as possible.
The couple had been celebrating Avoree's 21st birthday with her family when her grandmother ran out of eggs for the cake, Avoree's mother, Angel Siler, recalled. "She and C.J. had gone a mile down the road to their house to get eggs."
Avoree walked out of her Niles home, eggs in hand, and suddenly felt something bite her foot.
"I looked around and didn't know what it was. All I saw was blood dripping down my foot," she said. "Then I saw it, looked at its tail and thought, 'Oh, my God. It's a rattlesnake'."
Fortunately for Avoree, the snake had used only one fang to bite her.
Avoree ran back inside to tell Brown, who immediately used a chainsaw to cut off the snake's head.
"I knew I had to kill it because the hospital would need to see it," Brown said. "My first thought was, 'I have to get her to the hospital.' "
Brown, driving 155 mph, cut the normal 20-minute drive to Salina Regional Health Center into a 9-minute drive.
"I called the police when I got there and told them what happened, just in case someone complained to them about my driving," he said.
The bite from the prairie rattlesnake kept Avoree in the hospital from Aug. 3 through Wednesday. When she first arrived doctors looked at the bite, and after a couple of hours they gave her six of seven available vials of anti-venom.
She was re-admitted to Salina Regional late Friday afternoon after blood test revealed a higher level of venom in her blood, and her grandmother said doctors planned to give her more anti-venom.
Snake bites rare
Avoree, who works at SRHC as a specialty technician, said she knew the hospital staff would take good care of her.
"They initially told us they didn't have the right venom and then when they found it, they had to spend time unfreezing it," Angel Siler said. "They were also pumping fluids and IVs."
The anti-venom given to Avoree is derived from sheep and used for humans to fight off snake venom, said Dr. Zachary Jepson, SRHC emergency department physician.
Jepson, who helped treat Avoree, said it was only the second or third time his department had treated a snake bite in the past five years.
The first step in treatment, he said, was to make sure Avoree was comfortable.
"You make sure to treat the pain and treat the wound," he said. "Then, you monitor how the patient is doing over time. When she (Avoree) first got here she had a small wound."
Avoree said the swelling in her right leg multiplied every hour and had gotten so bad that "I couldn't even see my toes or ankles."
Still in pain
Doctors routinely drew blood from Avoree and conducted tests to check for blood clots and to make sure the venom wasn't spreading.
Jepson said credit should be given to the SRHC emergency department, trauma surgeon Dr. Dwane Beckenhauer and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rafik Benaissa.
On Wednesday, Avoree was released from the hospital and told to keep her right foot elevated and that she would be out of work for weeks.
She was walking around the house Friday morning with a walker and a slight limp while playing with a plastic snake her friends jokingly gave her.
"I hang out with my chickens," she said, joking. "It still burns really bad. My tendon was shortened laying in the hospital bed for so long, so I have some exercises I do as well."
Two species local
George Pisani, an adjunct herpetologist for the Kansas Biological Survey, said two species of venomous rattlesnakes can be found around Saline County.
One is a prairie rattlesnake, which SRHC doctors said was what bit Avoree, and the other is a massasauga rattlesnake, which Pisani said is mainly found in open, wet, grassy areas.
There are many variables, Pisani said, when it comes to how much venom a snake releases in a bite.
"It's completely up to the snake how much (venom) gets injected and depends on how surprised or alarmed the snake was when it bites," he said. "There's a difference in bites when someone accidentally steps on a snake than when it's being teased. If it's a feeding bite like delivered to a prey, it can release a lot of venom. Twenty-five percent of the time when it's a defensive bite, the snake doesn't inject any venom."
Luke Welton, collection manager for the division of herpetology at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, said encounters with venomous snakes are relatively rare.
"They prefer to remain reclusive," he said. "The times you'd usually see them is when they're crossing the street around dusk as the sun is going down or when you're invading their spaces, flipping rocks and moving brush."
This year, Welton said, with it being so dry, "they're probably going to come out more often, seeking moisture."
Angel Siler said she hopes her daughter's bite raises more awareness of venomous snakes in the area.
"We are super thankful for the hospital staff," she said. "Some of the hospital staff and some of her (Avoree) friends didn't know there were rattlesnakes in Kansas. I'm sure now everyone will be more aware."