Doctors induce coma to save woman's life from rattlesnake bite

CAMDEN COUNTY, Ga. — The family of Priscilla Meridith, 62, of Brunswick, Georgia, tell Action News Jax that Meridith is in a medically induced coma after she was bitten by a canebrake rattlesnake in Waverly, Georgia.


They tell us Meridith’s liver and kidneys are not functioning, and she suffered a heart attack in the emergency room. She was bitten on May 17.

Action News Jax Reporter Ryan Nelson spoke to the victim’s sister, Brenda Austen, in an interview.

Austen tells Nelson she and her sister were in a friend’s yard in Waverly at the time of the bite.

“She went to sit down, and she jumped up and said, ‘Oh, there’s a snake! Oh, it bit me!’” said Austen.

The family says it’s unclear how long she’ll be in a coma, but they tell Nelson she appeared to show signs of being alert when they met with her today, and say she will undergo a blood transfusion.

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Austen’s praying her sister recovers.

“I have faith in God,” said Austen. “He’s going to wake her up today, you know, I just know that.”

Experts tell Action News Jax canebrake rattlesnakes can also be found in Northeast Florida.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Thomas Floyd explained why their venom is potentially deadly.

“Canebrake rattlesnakes actually have evolved to be neurotoxic, as well as hemotoxic, so their bite can be quite potent,” said Floyd.

Meridith’s family says she has not been treated with anti-venom.

Nelson spoke to Dr. Mohsen Akhlaghi about this. He’s the Emergency Room medical director at Southeast Georgia Health System Hospital, where Meridith’s being treated.

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While he couldn’t legally speak about the specifics of her treatment, he explained how decisions about whether to administer anti-venom are made.

He tells Action News Jax the hospital follows poison control’s guidelines on whether to do so.

“We ask for the food allergies, if they’ve ever been exposed to anti-venom in the past, or if they had a snake bite in the past,” said Akhlaghi. “We communicate that with the poison control, and we wait for their recommendation.”

Family tells us Meridith was given a tourniquet at the scene of a bite.

Akhlaghi says tourniquets should not be administered unless a medical professional is there to treat the patient.

Experts say this is the time of year where snakes become more active.

They recommend keeping your grass cut and your lawns clear of any places venomous snakes may be able to hide.

If you'd like to help this family, you can find information on how to do so here.