A 21-year-old Freer man is recovering from a rattlesnake bite, and doctors are crediting the quick thinking of his father for saving his thumb after the bite.

Snake handler Eugene De Leon was preparing rattlesnakes in a pit for the snake show at the Freer Rattlesnake Round-Up Friday night when he was bitten by a two-foot long rattlesnake on the inside of his left thumb.

A veteran snake-handler, De Leon and his father, Eugene De Leon Sr., make up Snake Busters Snake Handlers in Freer. Every year, they catch and sell countless snakes. Snake Busters is also a supplier of rattlesnake meat for the Round-Up. They are also contributors to the Rattlesnake Round-Up’s famous snake show.

The younger De Leon said he was in the show’s snake pit and was attempting to move a snake. He used his hook to hold down the head, but when he reached down to grab its tail, a smaller snake curled up behind his boot struck him.

Smaller juvenile rattlesnakes, like the one that bit him, are thought of as being more dangerous because they often release more venom during a bite compared to mature snakes. So, immediately after the bite, De Leon’s father grabbed his son’s thumb and pull down in attempt to flush out as much venom as possible. The pulling caused blood and some of the yellowish venom to exit the wound before he was rushed to CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital in Alice.

De Leon was treated with 12 doses of antivenom, but he feared because of the swelling and bleeding that his thumb would be amputated. Doctors told them that his father’s quick actions to remove as much of the venom as possible immediately after the bite likely saved his thumb.

“It hurt a lot, but I’m doing better now,” De Leon said. “A lot of the swelling on my hand, my thumb and my arm has gone down. I’ll be ready for next year. Snake hunting is a lot of fun. Just don’t get them mad.”