The mother of a Clovis zookeeper said because Gila Monster bites are rare, doctors struggled to figure out how to treat her son.
Sharita Haragan, said her son, Cody Machen suffered a severe, potentially life-threatening reaction after he was bitten by the venomous lizard Wednesday while transferring it between cages at Hillcrest Park Zoo.
Machen’s condition had improved dramatically — he was taken off a ventilator Friday afternoon and breathing independently — and she anticipated he would be moved from the intensive care unit at Plains Regional Medical Center to a regular room soon, she said.
Haragan said her son is still groggy but in good spirits.
Because of Machen’s severe reaction, Haragan said doctors placed him on a ventilator and medication to slow his heart rate.
“If he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake it might have been better because they have anti-venom and they know what to do,” Haragan said.
“It’s actually worse than what people think... From what the doctor told me, there’s never been a fatal (Gila bite) case but it will make you wish you were dead,” Haragan said.
Machen’s arm is swollen from the shoulder down, about three times normal size, “and looks like a 500-pound person’s hand,” which the doctors have said may last for three weeks or more, his mother reported.
Reactions like Machen’s may be the result of a prolonged bite or a unique, individual response to the venom, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine Web site.
Cases where the heart and respiratory system react severely to the bite are rare, with only nine cases logged in medical journals between 1956 and 1994, the site said.
The venom from the lizard is comparable to that of a western diamondback rattlesnake but there isn’t enough of it in one bite to be fatal to humans, according to the Smithsonian Web site.
Clovis Parks and Recreation Director Rob Carter said Machen was following procedure when he was handling the reptile, which was about 12-15 inches in length.
The Portales native has always been an animal lover and developed a passion for reptiles in his youth after he “conned his grandparents into getting him an iguana,” Haragan said.
She said she doubts the experience will affect his desire to continue working with animals.
“He said he thought it was phenomenal and (he’s proud because) it’s a story he can tell, but he’s highly upset because there’s not a scar,” she said, laughing.