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Boy, 14, bitten by copperhead at Harford camp is released from hospital

State ParksBoy Scouts of America

It wasn't exactly how Jack Hummer planned to spend his 14th birthday, but it's one he'll always remember. And he'll have a great story to tell about his summer vacation.

Jack is the teenager who was bitten on the ankle Monday night by a copperhead snake at Camp Saffran, the Boy Scout camp in northeastern Harford County, where he was spending the week with his Boy Scout Troop 1673 from Laurel.

It was getting dark outside and Jack and his fellow campers were getting ready for bed. He thought he'd use the bathroom one more time and it was light enough that he didn't need a flashlight, he said Wednesday morning from his hospital room at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, a few hours before he was discharged.

"He's doing fine," Jack's mom, Julie Hummer, said.

"I walked into the latrine and I thought it was a stick poking me," Jack, a student at Monarch Academy Charter School in Glen Burnie, said. "I didn't see it before it bit me. It took me by surprise."

He said he was taken by surprise and once he realized it was a snake he ran as quickly as he could. The bite didn't hurt instantly, but soon he couldn't walk. It took "five, 10, 15, 20 minutes" for the bite to take effect, he said.

"I'm feeling much better than I was when I got bitten," he said.

The bite had initially been reported as a bite to the arm, but Jack said the copperhead was on the floor of the latrine. Only one of the snake's fangs, not both, nicked his left ankle.

The leaders at Camp Saffran responded immediately and effectively as they are trained to do, Eric Chase, director of support services for Baltimore Area Council Boy Scouts of America, said Tuesday. Jack was in an ambulance within 10 minutes and at the hospital in 20, he said.

The snake was captured and destroyed, the camp's policy whenever someone comes across a poisonous snake, Chase said.

Jack said still a little shocked by the entire incident.

"I never thought I'd be bitten by a snake, then I found out it was a venomous snake, I was totally shocked," Jack, who had two brothers at the camp with him, said. "And then on my birthday."

Lessons learned?

"From now on I'm always going to pee in the forest. It's not the same as walking into the dark latrine," he said, joking that everyone who's back at camp is probably using the woods now instead of the latrines.

Jack still has about two weeks of recovery at home while he waits for the swelling to go down, Julie Hummer said. He'll be on crutches and have to keep his leg elevated, which is a bummer for Jack.

"No karate, no swimming, I can't ride my bike, go on walks. I have to lay down all day on the couch with my leg elevated and be careful not to have the dog sit on my leg," he said.

There are some advantages though, he said. He can watch television, use the computer, lie down and do some reading and writing.

"It's good in some ways, but also bad. It's definitely not worth getting bitten by a venomous snake."

Jack said he looks forward to camp every year, but he ever imagined he'd be bitten by a snake, especially a poisonous one.

"I try to leave snakes alone," he said.

He's not afraid to go back to camp, he said, but he is afraid to go into the old latrines.

As for his birthday, his mom had planned to take him zip-lining as a special treat once camp was over. That's going to have to wait a couple weeks, too.

Julie Hummer said Jack had a very painful first night, and he still can't walk because it's too painful and swollen.

"It's right on the ankle, a tiny little dot that did a lot of damage," she said.

She said the camp and Scout leaders were wonderful in how her son's bite was handled.

"They took really good care of him. It was not a phone call I would ever expect to get as a parent," she said, adding hers is a big Boy Scout family.

"We know what a fluke thing this is. It's very random. We're very grateful it wasn't worse and it makes a great summer story," she said.

Ron Norris, a wildlife biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in Bel Air, said random venomous snake bites are rare, and copperheads aren't typically aggressive.

"Unless you grab them or step on them, they're not going to strike," he said. They only have so much venom in their sacs that unless they're going to bite something to kill it and eat it, "they don't like to waste it."

"It's a very passive snake," he added.

It's not common to see them, either, he said. They are pretty sedentary creatures who live in old woodpiles and rocky outcrops, habitat that is quiet and cool and a potential nesting area for mice and other small critters that are their food source.

"That's where you tend to see them," Norris said, adding Camp Saffran has that type of habitat, as does Rocks State Park's rocky outcrop and parts of Susquehanna State Park. "They're not something you expect to see on the outskirts of Bel Air."

Last July, a camper was briefly hospitalized after being bitten by a copperhead at Camp Moshava, which is in Street about seven miles west of Camp Saffran.

Norris suggested that people use caution when hiking through potential copperhead habitat and to watch where they're walking.

"If you see one, just walk around it. Don't be alarmed or frightened. It will most likely just lay there or run," Norris said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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