A happy 7-year-old boy, Joshua Sullivan and his two brothers were enjoying one last getaway with their mom, Mary Sullivan, before heading back to South Florida for the school year. Their weekend was full of activities that any boy would enjoy: a trip to the beach, a pit stop at a nature center to learn more about reptiles, a chance to play at Grandma’s house. What started as a final hoorah before starting second grade, quickly turned into the beginning of a very memorable weekend for Joshua and his family.
“After being in the car for several hours, I figured that the boys needed to play outside and run around,” said Mary Sullivan as she was settling into her mother’s home in Tallahassee for the final leg of their trip on that August evening. “I yelled for the boys to come inside, but when Joshua ran through the door, I could tell something was wrong.” If you ask the Sullivan boys, you may get completely different stories, but the consensus was that Joshua had stepped on a “stick” when running inside. That’s when the “stick” flew forward and stuck two fangs into one of Joshua’s middle toes. “Joshua came in screaming he had been bitten by a snake. After I looked at his toe, it was clear Joshua had two punctures. He had been bitten by a snake,” Mary knew, with the guidance of her sister-in-law, she needed to take him to the Tallahassee Memorial Emergency Center - Northeast.
While the car ride was full of scared screams and Joshua’s toe turning shades of blue, once they arrived the Sullivan family was immediately transferred into a room where Natalie Radford, MD, board certified emergency medicine physician, began the procedure for a venomous snakebite. His toe turned deeper pigments of blue and purple as his entire foot continued to swell. The venom kept spreading up towards his ankle.
Once Dr. Radford and her team had given him a few rounds of anti-venom and felt he was stable, Joshua and his mom were transported to the only Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in the Big Bend, the Tallahassee Memorial Children’s Center. During the ambulance ride, Joshua’s new fascination with snakes quickly turned terrifying as he remembered the specific facts he learned about venom. Joshua began crying, “I’m going to die mommy. I don’t want to die,” between the waling sounds of the ambulance.
Upon being admitted to the PICU, Julie Strickland, RN began treating Joshua, “He was very brave and was most interested in finding out what kind of snake bit him” as his little mind wrestled with the hope that it was not a poisonous snake. As the swelling continued in the PICU, Paul Martinez, MD, board certified pediatric intensivist, addressed the spreading of the venom with a few more rounds of antivenom while nurses kept record. “As the venom continued to spread up his foot, nurses would mark Joshua’s foot with a marker,” Joshua’s father, Dean Sullivan, made it to the PICU in record time from their home in Broward County, FL, after getting the call he will never forget.
During his 2-day stay in the PICU, Thomas Truman, MD, board certified pediatric intensivist, cared for Joshua’s recovery ensuring that the anti-venom had stopped the spreading of the poison. Dean watched as his son began to become himself again, “At one point, Joshua had been getting restless having to lay in bed for some time. A nurse brought in a Nintendo Wii video game which quickly changed the PICU from being a place he couldn’t wait to leave, to a place he was begging to stay.” After two and a half days, Joshua was finally able to be wheeled back into his normal life.
If you ask the Sullivans why they chose to come to TMH, they would tell you it was a no brainer. “I was born at TMH,” Mary accounted. “Even after moving away from Tallahassee, I knew in an emergency situation I wanted TMH to care for my son.” Dean echoed that statement, “They treated my son like he was their own. It is amazing to see how much TMH has evolved since we left Tallahassee in the 90’s.”
What is Joshua Sullivan up to now? His visit to TMH gave him a scar and a story that he is quick to share with anyone who asks, especially his little league baseball team. Just two weeks after the incident, Joshua made his first home run – proving his snakebite isn’t slowing him down anytime soon.