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The 9/11 Victim You Never Heard About

On a Miami September day, Lawrence Van Sertima, a professional snake handler, was bitten in the hand by a Taipan snake, arguably the most dangerous/venomous land snake in the world. At first he began to feel dizzy, then simply collapsed. Because emergency workers weren't able to fly him in a helicopter, they took him to the hospital in an ambulance, which took 40 minutes (many people who get bit by the Taipan die within an hour).

Luckily for Lawrence, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department had a rare snakebite unit, called "Venom 1." It was founded by Captain Al Cruz, who got on Lawrence's case. At the hospital, Lawrence was given generic antivenom that, despite slowing down the complete destruction of his body, couldn't stop the extremely potent effect of the Taipan venom. In addition to various physical breakdowns, his blood was thinning and filling his lungs, as well as coming out of every orifice in his body - including his nose, mouth, ears, and even eyes.

Lawrence urgently needed specific Taipan antivenom, or else he was going to die - he was already pushing his luck. Captain Cruz realized that the only two places in the country that had this antivenom were in New York City and San Diego.

Of course, this September Day was September 11, 2001. No antivenom nor anything else was going to be retrieved from NYC. And besides, as we all know, all flights had been grounded by then. In other words, the only substance that could save Lawrence's life was 3,000 miles away, on the other side of the country, and it could not be delivered by air. And Lawrence needed it within hours.

Cruz worked the phones but could not reach anyone in the government to get special permission for the flight. Finally, six hours later, he got through to the FAA, and by the wee hours of the morning had convinced them to allow a special flight to deliver the venom from San Diego. The flight was one of the few non-military flights (if not the only one) in U.S. airspace on September 12. It delivered the antivenom, which saved Lawrence's life. Lawrence held the record for surviving the longest without antivenom after a Taipan snake bite.

We can all identify the victims and losses incurred in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia on 9/11. But what other disruptions did the attacks they cause? Lawrence survived, but how many more were killed by the terrorists in either the short-term or long-term aftermath of the attacks and in ways we can't even imagine? We may never know, but it's worth thinking about. Here's a St. Petersburg Times story that recounted some of the aftershock effects of 9/11, including Lawrence's story as well as one about a 21-year old man who almost lost his opportunity to receive a new heart due to the attacks. And here's an incomplete Discovery Channel video about Lawrence's story.

Posted on Thu, February 12, 2009 at 12:40PM by Registered CommenterPaul Ibrahim in | Comments1 Comment

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Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for the thoughtful post. So many critics of the Bush administration dismiss the after effects of 9/11 as if the country just dusted off its clothing and went back to work the next day. Some of us did, but many of us couldn't.
Thanks for bring the far reaching (and nearly fatal) effects of this one individual to our attention.

Thu, February 12, 2009 at 06:53PM | Unregistered Commenterproof

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