A quick dip in Cheney Lake on Friday evening landed Grady Kornelson in the Intensive Care Unit after being bitten by what’s believed to be a copperhead snake.
“Thank the good Lord,” said Kornelson, 36, after he walked out of Hutchinson Regional Medical Center Monday afternoon, following his weekend stay in ICU, where he received five doses of anti-venom. His right arm remains swollen, inflamed and bruised, following the bite on his forearm, about four inches from the elbow.
Kornelson, his nine-year-old daughter and his fiance Charissa Brown were getting out of the water at Haven Cove just after dark when he felt the bite on his arm and saw a gray baby snake swimming towards his daughter and Brown. He yelled at them to go around it and get out of the water.
“Because of my Boy Scout training we tied a tourniquet around it,” he said, as Brown raced him to the hospital. However, when they arrived, they quickly learned tying a tourniquet for a snake bite was the wrong thing to do. It stops the blood flow.
At first Kornelson thought he had been bitten by a water moccasin. The snake left three dots that bled.
However, Hospital staff told him that “poison control” confirmed it was a copperhead because his blood wasn’t thinning. Kornelson described the pain from the bite as excruciating.
“The pain felt like I was hit by an electric fence while wet,” he said. “On a scale of one to 10, it was a nine.”
Fewer than one in 37,500 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year, or 7,000 to 8,000 bites per year, and only one in 50 million people will die from snake bites or five to six fatalities per year, according to the Department of Wildlife, Ecology, and Conservation at the University of Florida. The number of deaths would be much higher if people did not seek medical care.
Meanwhile, Mike Miller, chief of information at Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and Tourism said unless they have a specimen or a photo of a specimen, he questions whether it was a copperhead.
“Cheney Lake is so far from the known existence of copperheads,” Miller said.
Both Miller and Daren Riedle, wildlife diversity coordinator, said there are a variety of pit vipers, venomous snakes including massasauga rattlers and copperheads.
Riedle agreed Cheney Lake was “pretty far west for a copperhead, it’s farther west than we have specimens.”
The farthest western record for a coppe head was Butler County. However it might have made its way to the lake by traveling the river corridors or had been moved or transported by someone. Regardless of what snake it was the antivenom works for all pit vipers. The bites cause tissue damage.
“Not having been there, the massasauga rattler fits the description,” said Riedle. "Copperheads are a more forested specimen while the massasauga rattlers are found in wetlands and grassland.”
Generally copperheads are shy and not confrontational at all. They become more nocturnal with the heat. For the most part, you can walk past them and not know they are there, said Seth Lundgren with KDWPT.
Kornelson's bite was an unfortunate accident, Lundgren said. However snake bites at state parks are not reported, just dog bites.
People should enjoy the outdoors, but always watch where they put their hands and feet, Lundgren said.
Kornelson, meanwhile will undergo physical therapy, and has no plans to return to Cheney Lake any time soon.