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Wharton High School student recovering from rattlesnake bite in Tampa

At University Community Hospital on Friday, Jonathan Yokel had received 14 vials of antivenin. He may need more.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

At University Community Hospital on Friday, Jonathan Yokel had received 14 vials of antivenin. He may need more.

TAMPA — First it felt like a sharp pinch to his right hand, or maybe being poked with a needle.

Then came a burning, and after that a throbbing. Later the adrenaline would kick in, making it all a blur.

Jonathan Yokel, 16, peered down at the bushes, where he had reached for a basketball that strayed off-court during a pickup game in New Tampa.

He saw it slither away, just like the one on the poster in zoology class.

A pygmy rattlesnake.

He ran, got his mother and was taken by ambulance to University Community Hospital.

Friday afternoon, nearly 24 hours later, he was still getting morphine for the pain and antivenin to neutralize the poison.

In between, he spoke to whoever would help him spread the word.

"Kids have got to be careful," he said. "Summer is coming, kids will be outside. A word of advice: Be careful."

A sophomore at Wharton High School, Jonathan is an honor student and junior varsity basketball player. He missed his first final exam on Friday, precalculus. "This is the one time I'd rather be doing schoolwork," he said.

Before Thursday's incident, he had neither a love for snakes nor what he would call a phobia.

"We had class pets," he said. "We'd hold them. I've killed a couple of black racers in the garage."

The attack gave him a newfound respect for the creature, which appeared to be more than a foot long.

"It was a snake with a lot of venom," said Dr. James Orlowski, judging by the size and spacing of the fang marks and the damage it inflicted.

Jonathan is glad he recognized the snake.

"I want to give a shout-out to my teacher (Kenneth Wood)."

He is glad his mother had returned home from her job at a downtown Tampa law firm.

"I was only home not even five minutes before it happened," said Christine Yokel. "But he is a smart child. He would have known to call 911."

Still, what if Jonathan's brother Brandon, 12, or someone even smaller had reached for that ball? "I was kind of happy it wasn't one of the younger kids," he said.

Doctors say this is a time to become more vigilant about snakes. Heavy rains in recent weeks have flooded their habitats, causing them to move closer to humans as they search for dry land.

"It is an ongoing and very serious problem in Florida," Orlowski said. "What you think might be a stick is not necessarily a stick."

His course of treatment for Jonathan is to manage the pain while fighting the poison. After that, the teen will receive an anti-inflammatory for swelling.

He could go home as early as Sunday, although it's hard to say when he'll play basketball.

"He'll know when he is able to do it," Orlowski said.

Jonathan's writing hand is the one that was bitten, and he has another week of exams.

But that's all right, he said.

"It's all multiple choice."

Wharton High School student recovering from rattlesnake bite in Tampa 05/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 10:40pm]
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