South Florida biologist recovering from rattlesnake bite

As a wildlife biologist who collects and handles venomous snakes as much as some people walk their dogs, Joe Wasilewski has been bitten numerous times.

Cobras, cottonmouths, and rattlers have sunk their fangs into the 61-year-old Homestead scientist’s flesh at one time or another over decades. But a Nov. 20 bite from a four-foot Eastern diamondback rattler as he cleaned its cage was the worst ever — landing him in Homestead Hospital’s intensive care unit for eight days where 48 vials of antivenin were pumped into his veins.

“I’ve been through a lot of bites before,” Wasilewski said Tuesday by phone. “I’ve had 15-16 vials and walked out of the hospital the next day. But I’ve never had a bite as bad as this.”

Wasilewski’s son Nick, also a trained snake handler, was with him when the rattler chomped on his left forearm. Nick called 911, and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Venom One unit took Wasilewski to the hospital where doctors put him on a ventilator and administered the life-saving serum. His arm swelled and turned almost black for several days but amputation wasn’t required. He was released on Thanksgiving Day and has been recuperating at home.

“I’m not quite 100 percent yet,” Wasilewski said. “I’m just starting to feel normal now. It’s been a tough recovery.”

As for his future as a snake handler, “I have to be careful. I can’t take another bite. I’m at a crossroads right now,” he said.

He plans to donate the offending snake to a venom research lab in Kissimmee.

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