Lucky for a British Columbia man, the Woodland Park Zoo had 20 vials of antivenin for a venomous snake.
Michael Lovatt, 61, showed up at the Vancouver General Hospital on Monday with a snake bite after vacationing in Costa Rica. He didn't realize he'd been bitten by a viper. Lovatt was diagnosed with kidney failure and suffering from bleeding and swelling from his foot to the mid-thigh.
Based on the symptoms, doctors determined the snake species in question was a Fer-de-lance Bothrops asper, native to Central and South America. Its venom is known to kill humans. They contacted Harborview Medical Center and Woodland Park Zoo.
"There was a lapse in treatment," said zoo snake expert Alyssa Borek. "He didn't realize he was bit immediately. He is very lucky that he did have favorable results, with the delay in treatment."
The zoo says it had 20 vials of antivenin on hand for emergencies. The vials were flown to the hospital by air ambulance.
Dr. Roy Purssell, with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, says the Lovatt's blood clotting improved dramatically within minutes of receiving the antivenin and his condition had stabilized in six hours.
"Receiving the call for help was quite a harrowing experience," said Mark Myers, a curator at the zoo. "We knew that time was critical and we had to move fast if we wanted to help save this patient's life. I was relieved to hear that he improved within minutes and that we played a life-saving role."
Lovatt is still in the hospital recovering.
It's not completely surprising that the tourist didn't realize he'd been bit.
"The snakes do camouflage very well... so it's possible he didn't see the snake," said Borek, who said she's never been bit herself.
For staff safety, the zoo keeps a supply of antivenin for Mexican species of pit vipers: rattlesnakes, cantils, eyelash vipers and bushmasters.