From breathtaking mountains and deserts to pristine beaches and rainforests, Australia is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. Yet, Australia is also home to some of the most dangerous and venomous animals in the world.
For those who grow up in the country, encounters with deadly spiders, snakes, and jellyfish are just an accepted part of life. So when one father realized his son had been bitten by one of the most deadly creatures in the country, he knew exactly what to do…
A Weekend Of Fun
After a weekend spent racing motorbikes in late February 2017, 10-year-old Matthew Mitchell returned to his family’s home in Berkeley Vale, a suburb about an hour and a half north of Sydney, Australia. Since he had spent the entire weekend away, Matthew promised his parents he’d help with some chores the next day.
When Monday afternoon came around, Matthew’s parents Darren and Shelly Mitchell made sure Matthew followed through on his promise to help his dad with some household chores. Matthew knew it wasn’t going to be fun, but he had no idea just how much pain it was about to cause him…
Cleaning Up His Mess
That afternoon, Matthew and his parents went out to clean up the back shed on their property. Once inside the shed, the Australian couple told their son he had to pick up some of his dirty shoes, which he had thrown inside on his way into their home.
The Deadly Shoe
“Long story short, he was getting roused on a bit to put his shoes away,” Darren said. One of the pairs lying haphazardly on the ground had been handed down from Matthew’s cousin and were a size too big. In order to wear them, Matthew had to stuff tissues inside to keep them from slipping off. However, tissue paper wasn’t the only thing inside the shoe…
A Spider’s New Home
When Matthew picked the shoe up, he stuck his hand inside to throw the tissues out. However, the 6th grader didn’t realize that a spider had made its home inside it. “It sort of clawed onto me and all the legs and everything crawled around my finger and I couldn’t get it off,” Matthew said.
Matthew screamed out in pain as the spider bit his finger but managed to flick it off with his other hand. “Both his mother and I (were) within a few meters of him,” said Darren, who rushed over to see what happened to his son. “It landed a few feet away from me so I knew exactly what it was…”
A Funnel-Web Spider
On the ground by Darren’s feet was a large funnel-web spider. The spider, which is one of the most deadly spiders in the world, is native to Australia and can kill someone in minutes thanks to their venom that overloads the nervous system with at least 40 different toxic proteins.
A Deadly Bite
“With a funnel web bite to the torso, you’re dead,” Dr. Robert Raven of the Queensland Museum has said. “No other spider can claim that reputation.” Darren and Shelly knew how dangerous funnel-web spiders are and knew the only way they could save their son was by getting him medical attention as soon as possible…
The 000 Call
Darren, Shelly, their older daughter Natasha, and Matthew jumped in the car and drove to a nearby doctor’s clinic. When they arrived, the clinic was closed so they headed to an after-hours chemist. During the drive, Natasha dialed 000, Australia’s emergency services number, while the family tied Matthew’s shirt around his hand to try and keep the venom from spreading.
A Life-Saving Decision
Once at the chemist, Darren laid Matthew down and wrapped his arm in a compression bandage. Moments later, paramedics arrived and rushed Matthew to Gosford Hospital. “He went from pain in his finger until getting the tingling up his arm,” Darren said. “But he stayed conscious the whole time…”
Time Is Running Out
By the time Matthew arrived at the hospital, the venom had already started overloading his nervous system. At first, his eyes dilated and he began sweating. Then he began foaming at the mouth and started having seizures. Doctors could tell Matthew didn’t have much time left.
While Matthew and his family were on their way to the hospital, Natasha’s boyfriend had stayed home to try and find the spider. Once he captured it, he rushed it to the hospital so doctors could confirm it was a funnel-web spider and give Matthew the right anti-venom medication.
Record Breaking Treatment
The team treating the 10-year-old started giving him injections of antivenom to fight the funnel-web’s venom. Ultimately, in order to save Matthew’s life, they used 12 vials of antivenom, which is more than has ever been administered to any survivor in Australian history.
Normally, doctors only need to administer a few vials of antivenom for funnel-web spider bites. But because of the severity of Matthew’s bite, doctors needed to use about 3 to 4 times the normal dose. So when doctors saw how Matthew was doing the next morning, they were stunned…
A Full Recovery
By the following morning, Matthew had made a full recovery and doctors cleared him to go home. “I’ve never heard of it – it’s incredible,” wildlife expert Tim Faulkner said about Matthew’s incredible case. “And to walk out of hospital a day later with no effects is a testament to the antivenom.”
Lucky To Be Alive
According to Faulkner, male funnel-web spiders like the one that bit Matthew are about 5 times more venomous than females. “It would have been a fatal bite [without antivenom] there’s little to no doubt of that,” Faulkner said. “A small child is more vulnerable but that bite would have killed an adult…”
A Heroic Father
Faulkner also praised Darren for thinking to apply pressure to keep the venom from spreading, which also helped save his son’s life. “He was rattled but he should be very proud of himself, especially for applying a pressure immobilisation bandage,” Faulkner said.
The Real Heroes
While Darren was hailed a hero for his quick-thinking, he claims the real heroes are the chemist staff, paramedics, doctors, and nurses who worked as fast as possible to save Matthew. “It was the quick response from here to the chemist and from there to hospital that saved him,” Darren said…
After the terrifying experience, Darren and Shelly decided to share Matthew’s story to warn other parents so no other parent has to go through what they did. The couple hoped the terrifying ordeal will remind people to always check shoes, gardening gloves, and clothes left outside overnight wherever there are venomous snakes and insects live.
From Killer To Life-Saver
Once Matthew was treated at the hospital, the spider that bit him was sent to the Australian Reptile Park where Faulkner is the general manager. The park is the only zoo in Australia that milks funnel-web spiders to help create the antivenom used to treat their bites. According to Faulkner, the spider that nearly killed Matthew will be used to potentially save other bite victims.