Phoenix man bitten by cobra, explains importance of carrying correct anti-venoms

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Russ Johnson was bit by Asian Monocled cobra in 2016. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Russ Johnson was bit by Asian Monocled cobra in 2016. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Russ Johnson was bit by Asian Monocled cobra in 2016. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Russ Johnson was bit by Asian Monocled cobra in 2016. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Russ Johnson was bit by Asian Monocled cobra in 2016. (Source: Russ Johnson) Russ Johnson was bit by Asian Monocled cobra in 2016. (Source: Russ Johnson)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

A Valley man is sharing his story to show the importance of hospitals carrying anti-venom for non-native snakes.

Russ Johnson, President of the Phoenix Herpetological Society, is familiar with working with some of the most exotic and most dangerous animals in the world.

What he was not familiar with was being attacked by a cobra whose venom was deadly.

In late 2016, Johnson was bitten by an Asian Monocled cobra as he was loading it into a vehicle for a presentation in California.

Johnson was immediately taken to Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix where Dr. Michelle Ruha works.

Ruha is a medical toxicologist, and according to Johnson, the reason he’s alive.

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“As soon as Russ was bitten by the cobra, they called me and let me know what was happening and that they were going to get him directly to our hospital,” said Ruha. “So immediately, before he ever arrived, we mobilized everyone. We had people researching what exactly happens with this cobra bite. We were trying to locate the appropriate anti-venom.”

According to Johnson, there were five doctors and six nurses waiting for him when he arrived.  

“You can’t believe what they did,” Johnson said. “They walked across water, they parted the seas. I’m telling you, to get this anti-venom and locate it.”

They first attempted to give Johnson anti-venom for a different cobra but it failed. The doctors then launched on a nationwide search for the correct anti-venom, eventually finding it in Denver, Colorado.

Without the anti-venom, Johnson probably would have died.

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“It’s a neurotoxin; the first thing that’s going to shut down is your lungs. Then you’re going to have other organ failures,” Johnson said. “The eyelids were getting heavier and heavier and pretty soon I was having to reach over and open my eyelid and that’s the paralysis setting in.”  

Nine hours after he was bitten the correct anti-venom was administered. Five and a half hours later Johnson woke up.  

[SPECIAL SECTION: Critter Corner]

Now, the Herpetological Society and Banner are working together to store anti-venoms, making it easier for Arizona doctors to get their hands on them.

“Since then we’ve developed the partnership with Banner,” said Johnson. “Basically, what we do is we purchase the anti-venom, because we have the license to do that, and we store it at Banner.”

Ruha said that ideally, Banner will become the place known among people who store venomous snakes that they can go if they need help. She also said that they are responsible for requiring the right anti-venoms for the snakes they carry.

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