Handling snakes and being bitten by them - even the most deadly - are all in a day's work for William E. Haast, who was back on the job Wednesday afternoon after being bitten Feb. 28 by a deadly viper.
Haast, 78, hospitalized March 1 for eight days after being bitten by the saw-scaled or carpet viper, was released from University Hospital Wednesday afternoon, returning briefly to his job at Miami Serpentarium Laboratories in University of Utah Research Park.Haast, who was released from the hospital after the fibrinogen (which aids clotting) level in his blood increased above previously dangerous levels, told the Deseret News Thursday that he feels pretty good.
The snake that bit Haast later died. Haast laughed Thursday, saying, "I guess it has fulfilled its purpose."
Regarding his own condition, Haast said, "I'm still waiting" for the antivenin serum sickness to develop. "Hopefully it won't appear. We may ward it off, but it will take at least two weeks before I'm out of the woods," Haast said from the laboratory, which houses more than 1,000 snakes.
John Dwan, a hospital spokesman, said Wednesday that doctors expect Haast to experience some reaction to the antivenin serums administered after the researcher was hospitalized.
"Depending on the severity (of the reactions), he may have to return to the hospital. But he lives and works so close to the hospital that he can come back quickly if anything happens," Dwan said Wednesday.
Haast was bitten at noon Feb. 28 by the snake but did not get treatment at the hospital for about 27 hours because he believed he had built up sufficient immunity. He had previously been bitten 147 times by snakes, and over the past 40 years, has injected himself once a week with a mixture of about 50 different snake venoms to build up his own immunity.
Haast's laboratory collects raw venoms used by medical laboratories, pharmaceutical companies and others in research.
Haast - an agile, energetic gray-haired man who works about 10 hours a day 7 days a week - said he's not worried about the latest snake bite or possible effects that might develop from the viper's punctures at the base of his left thumb. Two fang punctures caused bleeding and swelling that spread to his shoulder.
He said his hand was still bleeding a day after the bite, the 18th bite that was serious enough to require hospitalization.
But Haast was "not frightened or bothered. I take it in stride." Although listed critical during his initial time in the hospital, Haast said he was conscious but was listed critical because his blood wouldn't clot.
The researcher, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 124 pounds, said the bite by the viper, which was from the Pakistan area, was the 148th bite in a long career.
"I was never bitten by this species before, but by cobras, rattlesnakes . . . almost every different species that we collected," he said.
The laboratory collects snake venom from more than 200 different species of snakes, ranging from the small coral snake to the king cobra, the largest venomous snake in the world.
Haast said he is not fearful of handling the snakes. He said it would be foolish for him to continue in his work if he were frightened. He said he first handled a poisonous snake when he was about 12 and received his first snake bite in 1926, when he was 16.
"I've had them ever since. (Handling snakes) was a hobby" until 1946, when he started Miami Serpentarium.
The work of Haast and his associates is important, for example, in medical research.
"Venom in the snake that bit me prevents the blood from clotting. That is why it is destructive, so the laboratories as well as others (facilities) are investigating this venom to be used as an anticoagulant as well as blood-clotting reagents," Haast said.
Nancy Harrell, Haast's associate, told the Deseret News that Haast, known and honored internationally, is a "very unique individual who has dedicated his life to the advancement of science and medicine. He does it better than anyone else in the world."
Haast has donated blood to 21 snake bite victims, all of whom are alive today. He was made an honorary citizen of Venezuela for donating his blood to a young boy who was bitten by a tropical coral snake in the jungle. He also has been honored by former President Gerald Ford and the mayor of Miami.
Harrell said Thursday she believes Haast would be "taking it easy Thursday. There's a lot to do before he gets back to his regular schedule of handling snakes and producing venom. He has to check cages, making sure there is enough water . . . ."
While in the hospital, Haast said he was concerned about the condition of snakes in the laboratory.
A week went by with the "snakes being isolated. They have to be watered and taken care of. I just went in Wednesday to see what conditions were. They weren't so bad - just a couple of dead (snakes). But that is all," Haast added.