NEW TAMPA — Two years ago, Yolanda Diaz lay in a bed at University Community Hospital, her arms bruised and swollen by a water moccasin's deadly venom.
This week, the mother of four basked in California's movie star glow while filming a segment for I'm Alive, an Animal Planet program that features people who survive animal attacks and shows how it changed them.
A giddy Diaz gave a phone interview from her Santa Monica hotel room, which had an ocean view near the boardwalk. It was her first time in California, a trip she never thought she would make in her lifetime.
"Had this not happened, we would have never been able to afford to come to California," said Diaz, 47, who with her husband and 15-year-old daughter got a free trip from the show. "It's amazing."
Don't mistake her excitement. She did not enjoy her encounter with the snake. She paid the price: 10 days in the hospital (four of those in intensive care), 15 doses of antivenin serum, thousands of dollars in medical bills and a left index finger that no longer fully extends.
Monday, she spent about five hours filming a re-enactment of what happened on June 10, 2008.
Diaz, who grew up on Staten Island, N.Y., saw some children gathered around the snake near the clubhouse in her Live Oak Preserve subdivision. She tried to fling it away from the kids, but the snake bit her once on the left hand and twice on the right hand.
Within five minutes, she was unable to breathe. Her hands swelled like balloons. At one point, doctors considered amputating part of her right arm.
It took her months to recover. Insurance covered 80 percent of her $150,000 hospital bill. She is still chipping away at the remaining $30,000.
Diaz was one of three venomous snakebite victims in New Tampa in less than a year.
On Dec. 11, 2007, six months before Diaz's encounter with the snake, Jake Hoffman, then 7, stepped on a water moccasin while playing in a friend's back yard. Doctors administered 12 vials of antivenin serum to neutralize the venom, and Jake recovered.
On Oct. 10, 2008, a rattlesnake bit Efrain Arango's left index finger when the mail carrier reached into a mailbox during his route. He still has mobility problems in his hand.
When producers for I'm Alive tracked Diaz down, she was ecstatic.
The show paid all expenses — travel, lodging and meals — for Diaz, husband Charles and daughter Madelyn. They arrived Sunday and walked along the boardwalk. On Monday, Diaz filmed the show. Charles and Madelyn were scheduled to be interviewed Tuesday. The family was originally supposed to return home Wednesday, but Diaz extended the trip two days so they could stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and shop on Rodeo Drive. She planned to fly home today.
Producers told Diaz the show may air sometime in November.
Though the bite was a painful experience, Diaz is happy that something good has come of it.
"I don't think I would've changed anything," Diaz said. "I would've been smarter and called Animal Control or something. But my experience is taking me places I never imagined I'd go to."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com.