Field-trip leader, 76, bitten by rattler while protecting girl

Posted May 30, 2012, at 4:48 p.m.

Nick Karnazes said he didn’t think the rattlesnake could get to him Wednesday as he stepped forward to move a 9-year-old girl to safety while supervising a student field trip at Irvine Regional Park.

Karnazes, 76, of San Clemente, Calif., said he managed to protect the Huntington Beach, Calif., girl but was bitten on a finger when the snake lunged at him. He was taken to Western Medical Center Santa Ana and remained there Thursday evening, recuperating under antivenin treatment.

None of the 22 students Karnazes was leading as a field naturalist for the outdoor-education program “Inside the Outdoors” was affected by the rattlesnake encounter, other than being startled, Karnazes said.

“I pulled the snake off and threw it into the bushes,” he said. “It bit my middle finger. It bled quite a bit.”

He wiped off the blood and tried to complete the final 20-minute segment of the field trip, he said. But as he escorted the children to their bus, he felt tingling in his feet, swelling in his hands and “sensations in my head.”

He asked someone to call 911.

Karnazes made news in 2009 when he crisscrossed the United States alone in his motor home while playing 108 rounds of golf in 96 days in 48 states, a tour dubbed “The Happy Golfer” by its sponsor, Callaway Golf. Soon after, he had quadruple bypass surgery.

Karnazes accomplished his feat after his son Dean, known worldwide as the “Ultramarathon Man,” had run 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states in 2006 and wrote a book about it.

The senior Karnazes has worked with Inside the Outdoors, a self-supporting program administered by the Orange County Department of Education, for 11 years, sharing nature with school groups. On Wednesday, students were nearing the end of a five-hour field trip when someone cried “Snake!” Karnazes said he told the kids to move back and not touch it, but he noticed one girl seemed to be too close.

On Thursday, Karnazes said he felt much better. “I had a whole lot of visitors,” he said. “Everyone is smiling, and I’m smiling back at them.”

He acknowledged it wasn’t a good idea for him to try to complete the tour after being bitten. In the parking lot, he was told to lie down. “I couldn’t move my feet,” he said. “I couldn’t stand back up.

“I was very fortunate that I never passed out … it can be fatal.

“I had quite a bit [of venom] in my body,” Karnazes said. He required 12 vials of antivenin — two doses of six vials each.

He said his wife, Fran, and son Kraig were among visitors at the hospital, and Dean called from London. “I’ve got a loving family,” Nick said.

Karnazes said he had played golf a day earlier in San Clemente and shot 87. He is talking with Callaway about helping him organize a second tour — this time to play 116 rounds of golf in 116 days in all 58 counties of California.

Pam Johnson, administrator for Inside the Outdoors, said the organization’s field naturalists are cautious with kids and have first-aid training, CPR training, radios and emergency kits.

“Nick is great,” she said. “He has so much energy. The kids love him. He is super-enthusiastic [teaching] hands-on science activities.”

Karnazes said he expects to be released Friday but has been warned not to play golf for a week because his right hand, where the snake got him, is still pretty puffed up.

“I’m learning to eat left-handed,” he said.

© 2012 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

 

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