It takes more than a snake to spoil her night

Norwich Free Academy junior Shannon Young talks with friends Friday during NFA's junior prom at the Mystic Marriott in Groton. Young was wheelchair-bound for most of the evening as she is still recovering after being bitten by a copperhead snake while climbing Lantern Hill in North Stonington last Sunday.
Norwich Free Academy junior Shannon Young talks with friends Friday during NFA's junior prom at the Mystic Marriott in Groton. Young was wheelchair-bound for most of the evening as she is still recovering after being bitten by a copperhead snake while climbing Lantern Hill in North Stonington last Sunday. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

North Stonington - Shannon Young went to her junior prom Friday in a wheelchair and brought along crutches for when she wanted to stand.

The wheelchair wasn't the result of broken bones or anything so conventional. Young is recovering from a bite delivered by a copperhead snake while she was hiking with her brother and aunt six days ago on Lantern Hill.

"I didn't think anything of it," Young, 17, said Friday of hiking the popular destination. "But all of a sudden I felt something bite me, and I looked down and the snake was slithering away.

"It felt like a hammer with needles on the end of it."

The trio trekked back down the trail as the spot above her big toe began to swell. An "itchy feeling" began to set in and was working its way up her leg, said Young, who was wearing flat shoes. Her toes were covered when the snake struck, but the top part of her foot was exposed.

"I was just concerned that I was going to lose my foot," the Norwich Free Academy student said.

Young limped into the emergency room at The Westerly Hospital and said her leg felt like there was a softball attached to the end of it.

After nurses took blood samples, it was determined that Young had been bitten by a venomous snake and needed antivenin treatment. The closest hospital with antivenin was Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence.

When Young arrived at Hasbro, her foot was blue, cold to the touch and swollen. "I wasn't overly scared because I know not to be because I was in the right hands, but I was nervous because I didn't know what was going to happen to my foot," she said.

After nearly three days in the hospitals' intensive care unit, Young went home to North Stonington. She's expected to make a full recovery, but for now she's treating her foot like she has an injury and isn't quite ready to bear her full weight on it. Her leg shows the yellowish color of a recovering bruise, the bite wound is "purplish" and she's still gaining feeling back in her foot.

Young said she wants the public to be aware that venomous snakes exist in North Stonington. According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, there are 14 snake species in Connecticut, but only the copperhead and timber rattlesnake are venomous.

Because of their coloring, copperheads are often mistaken for the eastern milk snake, but Maggie Jones, executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, said an easy way to tell the two apart is by the definition of the red, white and black color pattern; milk snakes have red, white and black coloring and copperheads are more of a brown-orange "watercolor" combination.

Jones said copperheads are considered rare in Connecticut. "They're not common at all, and they're a state listed species," she said. "They're not something that you would encounter commonly, and they like certain elevations between 100 to 700 feet, so Lantern Hill is an ideal spot for them.

"They tend to be very shy and if you even see them, they're sunning themselves and they're just sort of lying still. They're not actively looking to bite somebody."

Jones said copperheads have been found along the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island and in Pachaug State Forest. She's not aware of any copperhead sightings in Rhode Island, she said.

Jones said people should never handle wild animals and should seek immediate medical attention for any kind of a bite.

"Their cryptic colorations really allow them to survive in close proximity to humans, even though we don't always see them," Jones said of the snakes.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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