The Arenal Area Magazine

Teen Survives Pit Viper Attack In Costa Rica


By Ann Butler, Durango Herald

A Durango girl’s trip to Costa Rica to learn Spanish turned into a life-threatening experience. Katherine Pecor, who graduated from high school in May, was hiking with a group in the Costa Rican rain forest in early June when she felt a sharp pain in her foot.

“There were a bunch of anthills around there, and the guide was stomping around her foot, she thought to stomp ants off,” her mother, Sandra Pecor, said. “Then her foot went numb, and the group decided she was OK to go on up to see a waterfall.”

By the time they reached the waterfall, Katherine was feeling hot and vomiting, but she walked out with the group to the bed and breakfast where they were staying. The lodging was owned by a man and his wife, who was a veterinarian.

“When the woman saw the foot, she hit the ceiling,” Sandra Pecor said. “The woman gave her a shot of antivenom from her veterinary clinic because she didn’t know if she would make it to the hospital in time.”

Katherine had been bitten by a pit viper.

“There is a little confusion regarding which of the pit vipers bit her,” Sandra Pecor said. “There is a language barrier, but in some records e-mailed to us from Costa Rica, the atropoides nummifer Mexicanus (Central American jumping pit viper) was the snake listed, and in other records, the bushmaster was listed. Both are in the pit viper family.”

During the first four weeks after the bite, Katherine received 11 doses of antivenom in five different rounds while hospitalized in Costa Rica. Doctors also discovered she had a hairline fracture in her foot where the snake had bitten.

“They wanted to keep her because they had the right kind of antivenom,” her mother said. “The rattlesnake and cottonmouth are U.S. pit vipers, but the antivenom is a little different.”

Katherine was completely “venomized,” doctors told her family, with venom even showing up in the fluid drawn during a spinal tap.

“When they told her they wanted to amputate her leg, we decided it was time for her to come home,” Sandra Pecor said.

While Katherine’s leg is numb from the knee down with some nerve damage in her thigh, the color is returning. She is going to physical therapy to learn to walk again.

Sandra Pecor isn’t too surprised at how tough her daughter has been through the experience.

“This is my kid who broke her arm 10 minutes into a soccer match and played until halftime without telling anyone,” her mother said.

Still, the physical injury is difficult for a young woman who was a talented soccer player. Katherine had been invited to try out for several Division I schools.

“Katherine had decided academic excellence was more important to her than playing soccer,” her mother said. “She did not plan to try out for any of the teams even before her encounter with the pit viper.”

Katherine, who was home-schooled and already has completed a year of classes at Southwest Colorado Community College, was accepted at Stanford and Georgetown universities. She will have to put off beginning her college education until at least the spring semester because she still has some serious recovery time ahead.

“We’re hoping for a full recovery,” her mother said. “She’s doing better every day. But we almost lost her.”

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