This Dad Acted Fast to Save his Son After a Rattlesnake Bite on a Trail Ride

Zach Vogel watched as his son crashed on his bike and landed on top of a rattlesnake.
Photos courtesy of Zach Vogel.

Zach Vogel and his 11-year-old son Ethan’s Tuesday evening mountain bike ride started out as a challenging but harmless agenda: ride from their home in Golden, Colorado to North Table Mountain for a short loop and back home, just in time for dinner.

As Vogel’s sons, 11 and 13, age into adolescence, they’ve grown out of kid’s bikes and into size small adult bikes. Ethan recently inherited his mom’s old Santa Cruz Blur trail bike and wanted to ride North Table with dad, the first trail they rode together.

At about 6:30 p.m., they stopped for a picture together and carried on with the ride, descending down a rocky trail with Ethan ahead and Vogel a few feet behind. The two carefully cruised down to a technical section; two boulders with a narrow channel. Ethan’s front wheel cleared the two rocks, but his back wheel caught one and he started to tip, putting him over the front of the bike and onto the side of the trail. Vogel watched from behind.

“He literally in slow motion fell over,” Vogel told us in an interview Friday morning. “It just happened really fast, and I’m watching from my bike, and he landed in the tall grass right next to the trail and just fell right on top of a rattlesnake.”

Neither riders knew a snake rested silently on the side of the trail in the grass, but Ethan felt the bite immediately. He jumped back, knowing he’d been bitten, and pulled up his shirt to see two fresh fang marks on his right pectoral. Vogel ripped Ethan’s shirt off, sat him down on the ground away from the snake and called 911.

Vogel knew he needed to keep Ethan comfortable when he was on the phone with 911 dispatchers. He laid him on his right side with Ethan’s heart above the wound and told the dispatcher what happened and where they sat while the dispatcher asked what symptoms Ethan felt. Vogel tried to keep his son and himself calm.

“When you’re 11-year-old son is in your arms, and you know he’s been bitten and he knows he’s been bitten and he knows how dangerous and deadly they are and he’s crying to you, and saying that he’s not ready to die…[I’m] just trying to keep myself together because our kids, you know, we’ve got three kids, so they’re going to respond how we respond and the reaction that we show on our face. I just talked him off the ledge.”

The venom acted quickly, said Vogel. Seven minutes after the bite, white spots appeared on Ethan’s cheeks and he threw up bile. His face, lips, and eyes grew numb as sirens screamed toward them in the distance.

By this point, 10-15 other mountain bikers had gathered around the two and lended any help they could. Some sprinted down to greet paramedics as they arrived and show the crew to the father and son. Nineteen minutes passed from the first 911 call to when first responders arrived.

Paramedics hoisted Ethan into an ambulance. His heart was elevated at around 165BPM, said Vogel, but his blood pressure was “tanking.” They treated Ethan with steroids and other medications immediately, but he couldn’t be administered an anti-venom until he reached the hospital.

When he reached the ER, doctors put him on a 90 minute IV drip, slowly releasing 10 vials of anti-venom into Ethan. Slowly but surely, Ethan’s vital signs started stabilizing.

While a bite on Ethan’s chest, close to his heart seems like one of the worst possible locations to be bitten, doctors told Vogel it was a best case scenario compared to an extremity like the wrist or ankle where more veins are present to carry and circulate the venom.

By 8:30 p.m., doctors told Vogel that Ethan was reacting positively to the anti-venom. Ethan’s heart rate was coming back down and his blood pressure rose to a normal level again. The doctors and paramedics who treat a number of rattlesnake bites every summer told him his son would likely be alright.

“I was able to take a deep breath at that point and realize that things are going to be OK because his body is responding positively to the anti-venom.” Ethan’s mother spent the night with him at the hospital and Vogel went home to take care of their other two kids. By Friday morning, Ethan was quickly recovering.

“He’s an 11-year-old,” said Vogel. “You have to strap him to the bed to rest because he wants to get up and move.”

Thinking back on what went right that evening, Vogel said he did his best to keep Ethan calm and comfortable and make themselves as accessible to first responders as possible.

“Because once it’s in their hands, they’re the trained professionals at what they do. At that point, the ball is in their court.”

Ethan said he’s eager to get back on the bike again. He and his brother have been venturing out on their own at trails close to home and they’ll be able to go out again soon, as long as they have a fully-charged phone and are aware of their surroundings and how to call for help. There will always be risks in mountain biking, Vogel said, he just wants his sons to be able to mitigate them and plan accordingly. In the mean time, dad picked Ethan up some new gloves and a new hip pack.

“We just keep gearing him up so he’ll be ready to go,” he said. “When he’s ready, his bike and everything will be ready.”

Update: A GoFundMe for Ethan’s medical bills has been created here.