The White House, in what it hopes will be an example of a "kinder, gentler nation," has acquired a rare serum from Iran in hopes of saving the life of a Salt Lake man bitten by a Pakistani pit viper, officials said Friday.
But because of current tensions between Iran and most Western countries, the White House found another batch of serum in the Soviet Union and arranged for it to be flown in as well.And, just to be safe, administration officials also arranged for a slightly different serum to be flown in from London. The viper produces two types of venom. That serum arrived Friday.
Steve Studdert, special assistant to President Bush and a Utah native, said the batches from Iran and the Soviet Union will arrive in Salt Lake City late Saturday. He said he agreed to help because it was an opportunity to show that the administration really is interested in promoting kind acts between governments and people.
Meanwhile, William E. Haast, 78, is in serious condition at the University Hospital. He was bitten on the thumb earlier this week while handling the snake.
A special antivenin was flown to Salt Lake from the San Diego Zoo on Wednesday, but a hospital spokesman said the serum is not working. The problem is the snake is found only in Iran, parts of Iraq and in the southwest section of the Soviet Union. Serum to counter the snake's venom is not available in the United States.
Doctors were using a plasma component Friday night to help Haast's blood coagulate until the Iranian serum arrives. The viper's venom prohibits blood from coagulating, and victims often bleed to death.
Haast, who has now been bitten 148 times by various snakes, is director of a company that produces snake venom for use in research and in making serums.
"I asked myself, `What would the president want me to do?' " said Studdert, who was told of the problem Thursday night when called by one of Haast's business associates.
Studdert said Bush endorsed the effort. "I knew if we could be instrumental in saving a man's life, he (Bush) would want us to do all we could," he said.
Relations between the United States and Iran have been tense since Ayatollah Khomeini's call two weeks ago for the killing of the author of a book deemed insulting to the Moslem religion. Although the author is British, Khomeini has often repeated his belief the United States is the "great Satan."
Studdert said he believes the Iranian government will not interfere with the shipment. "The communications were not government to government; they were people to people," he said.
Studdert said the White House arranged for a Farsi translator to work with an Iranian "source" to locate the serum. The source will put the serum on a plane to Frankfurt, West Germany.
The U.S. counsel general in Frankfurt will meet the plane and move the serum to an Air France flight to Paris. The U.S. Embassy in Paris will meet the plane and put the serum on an Air France supersonic transport flight to New York City.
In New York, U.S. Customs officials will put the serum on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Division helicopter, which will fly from John F. Kennedy Airport to LaGuardia. There, a Delta Air Lines flight will be waiting to take the serum to Salt Lake.
"We've worked around the clock on this," Studdert said.
The White House also contacted the Soviet Ministry of Health, which located serum at the Tashkent Institute of Vaccines. The Soviets agreed to cooperate in sending the serum to Salt Lake.