‘He didn’t eat for 4 days:’ Florida boy recovering from venomous snake bite

Elijah Bustamante spent four days in ICU at Jacksonville hospital

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – It was a close call for a 7-year-old Clay County boy who was bitten by a venomous snake, News 6 partner WJXT-TV in Jacksonville reported.

His mom said he was recovering at home Monday night after spending close to a week in the hospital.

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Elijah Bustamante spent four days in the ICU at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. His painful encounter comes at a time of year when snakes are the most active.

“He had seven bags of antivenom. He had to get a feeding tube. He didn’t eat for 4 days,” mother Sanita Bustamante said.

Elijah is still in pain but doing a lot better compared to when he was in the hospital. But the recovery process is going to take some time.

Elijah is not able to walk yet and he has to go through physical therapy to regain strength in the leg where he was bitten.

News4JAX spoke with Elijah and his mom about what happened outside their Green Cove Springs home on June 3.

Hospital staff checks out Elijah Bustamante after he was bitten by a poisonous snake at his Green Cove Springs home. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

“I was in the backyard playing and I was going to pick up a rock and the snake jumped out and bit me,” he said.

Elijah was rushed to Wolfson Children’s Hospital and his leg was extremely swollen from the large bite.

Doctors gave him seven rounds of antivenom and he was kept in the ICU for four days. Doctors believe the snake that jumped out of a bush and bit Elijah was a venomous water moccasin.

“He said like a dark grey with dark spots and a fat head. A lot of the doctors went on their phones and pulled up different ones and every time he picked out one it ended up being the water moccasin snake,” Sanita Bustamante said.

But how common are snake bites like these?

News4JAX checked with Florida’s Poison Control Center and it said there have been 40 patients who have reported bites so far this year in the 10 counties in Northeast Florida. Spokesperson Mike McCormick said the patient ages have ranged from three to 75 years old. He said if you are bitten by a snake call poison control and get medical care immediately.

“Please don’t ice where the snake has bitten,” McCormick said. “Please don’t try to capture the snake. If it’s safe to do so and you can get a picture, that’s OK, but please don’t try to capture them. Please don’t try to cut the wound and suck the venom out.”

Thankfully, Elijah is in better spirits now.

“But my leg still hurts,” he said.

His next step is relearning how to walk through physical therapy.

In the meantime, his family is avoiding the backyard especially because the snake was not trapped.

“My message would be...it can happen. Definitely, we’re in Florida, they’re all over. Just be mindful,” Sanita Bustamante said.

If you or someone you know is bitten call Florida’s Poison Control Center help hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

One thing to keep in mind is that not all of the native snakes in Florida are venomous, only 6 out of 44 native species are. Poisonous species include the coral snake, water moccasin, copperhead and diamondback, pygmy and timber rattlesnakes.

McCormick says if you are bitten get help immediately even if you don’t know the species.

“Don’t wait. Sometimes people aren’t sure when they’re bitten by a snake and several of the bites this year in fact we can’t identify it because the people never saw it,” he said.

A water moccasin climbs from a roadway onto the Mississippi River Levee. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.