Winnemucca toddler dies after being bitten by rattlesnake

Three-year-old Alyssa Johnson died after being bitten by a rattlesnake in the Sonoma Canyon recreation area.

Three-year-old Alyssa Johnson died after being bitten by a rattlesnake in the Sonoma Canyon recreation area.

WINNEMUCCA — On Saturday, May 9, 3-year old Alyssa Johnson and her family rushed to the hospital after the toddler was bitten by a rattlesnake while her family was hiking in the Sonoma Canyon recreation area in Pershing County. The toddler later died from her injuries. 

Family and community members are questioning whether Alyssa’s life could have been saved had she been given a rattlesnake antivenom serum by Humboldt General Hospital (HGH) or transferred within a shorter period of time.

Alyssa’s mom, Carie Johnson, said she and her husband Mike were walking in the canyon outside cell phone reception with their 9-year old son and 3-year old (Alyssa) when Alyssa was bitten by the snake.

Carie said that her husband immediately picked up Alyssa when he realized she had been bitten in the leg and began running with her to where their vehicle was parked.

Carie said the bite happened at approximately 3 p.m. and it took nearly an hour to get Alyssa to Humboldt General Hospital due to the distance to the family vehicle, time out of the canyon and to the hospital. The Johnsons met HGH EMS en route to the hospital and Carie said she and Alyssa waited in the emergency room for approximately three to four hours before doctors decided to transfer her to Renown Medical Center in Reno.

Carie said she and her daughter arrived to Renown via ground ambulance at 10 p.m., after leaving at approximately 7 p.m. and having to make a stop along the way for an undisclosed issue.

Carie said doctors at the HGH emergency room told her that Alyssa was stable and that didn’t need to be given antivenom prior to deciding to transfer her to Reno.

“The medical records say they (doctors) didn’t know enough about it to know what to do with her,” said Carie. “They didn’t have the knowledge and didn’t feel comfortable admitting or taking care of her.”

Carie said that her usually lively daughter was quiet during the wait at the emergency room and on the way to Reno she became more lethargic and began having some breathing issues.

“During the ride, she was obviously not okay in the timeframe it was taking us,” said Carie. I kept asking questions but was unaware of how critical it was.”

Carie said that medical records indicate that the emergency room doctor treating Alyssa had never treated someone with a rattlesnake bite before. She said that HGH doctors were in contact with doctors from Renown while they awaited a decision of care.

Carie said that when she first learned about being transferred to Reno, she was told they would be going by helicopter and later she learned that they would be transferred via ambulance.

Carie said that when they arrived at Renown at 10 p.m., her daughter began to lose her vital pulse. She said that Renown teams tried to issue the antivenom serum but by that time it had been nearly seven hours since Alyssa had been bitten, outside of the recommended 6-hour window of effectiveness.

Community citizens and family members of Alyssa organized a peaceful protest in her honor on Friday across from HGH lasting all day where people gathered and displayed signs while wearing purple, Alyssa’s favorite color.

“I don’t want the hospital shut down, we need a hospital in this community; we just need training, education and we need for this not to ever happen again to anyone else because there are tons of snakes out there,” said Carie. “The whole way through we discussed it, we’re watching out and talking about how there were snakes out to be careful. No matter how much you prepare things to happen, so there needs to be training for those who have the issue.”

Carie said that she hopes that the community can come together and fight for changes at the hospital in a peaceful and loving way because Alyssa loved everybody and never liked to see anyone angry or hurt.

“We want change, we’re going to fight for change, we want people to help us fight for change but let’s do it in a peaceful respectful way instead of chaotic,” said Carie. “These nurses and doctors are good nice people that are doing their best and that’s why they are in the field they are in and this COVID thing is something they are dealing with and I appreciate that and they just need training.”

Alyssa’s family has set up a GoFundMe page to go directly to the family to help with costs related to emergency medical needs to help family take the time to be home together and help with expenses related to any legal needs for the family in pursuing changes in Alyssa’s honor.

Carie said that Alyssa’s body was donated to save other kids and that two of her valves will be able to be donated to another child in need, as well as other organs.

When contacted, HGH said that they cannot share patient information or discuss patient care and that the investigation is ongoing.

“As a hospital staff, we join the community in sharing our deepest condolences with the family,” said HGH Community Education Director Nicole Maher.


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