A funnel-web spider bite survivor has met with the Keepers who contributed to saving his life at the Australian Reptile Park this week. With the Australian Reptile Park being the only facility in the world to milk funnel-web spiders for their venom to produce lifesaving anti-venom, staff were thrilled to meet with 19-year-old Ollie Kay, who received two vials of antivenom in February after being bitten while asleep in his bed.
Thanks to the hard work of the Australian Reptile Park and their funnel-web spider venom program, Ollie survived the bite and lives to tell the terrifying tale. To say thanks to the Keepers who helped save his life and learn more about the Park’s venom program, Ollie and his family toured the funnel-web spider milking facility at the Australian Reptile Park with Operations Manager, Billy Collett, and they shared their story.
After waking in the middle of the night with burning pain on his forearm, Ollie pulled back the sheets to reveal a large, black spider crawling across the bed. After his girlfriend quickly filmed the spider, they began searching the internet to confirm their fears – it was a deadly male funnel-web spider, capable of killing an adult in less than 90 minutes.
As they rushed to the hospital, Ollie was experiencing sweating, nausea, heart palpitations and light-headedness. Thankfully, his family sought medical attention immediately, heading to hospital within 15 minutes. Doctors rushed to assess his bite and Ollie was given two vials of anti-venom, as his family sat fearfully in the waiting room. Ollie’s father, John Kay, recalled the scariest part of the ordeal when he heard doctors call for urgent resuscitation after a suspected cardiac event when the troponin levels of Ollie’s heart peaked to an alarming level.
Once Ollie received two vials of funnel-web spider antivenom, he felt the effects immediately. Ollie said “It felt so much better… it was very fast-acting.” Within 30 minutes, he reported his headache, nausea and light-headedness were completely gone.
Ollie remained in hospital for over three days for monitoring after the administration of antivenom and his heart scare, clearing him for any heart damage with multiple scans.
John said, “The panic came in after, when we realised just how serious it was and what could of happened if we had been there 10-15 minutes later… So that’s when, as a parent, you think… wow – that was really close.”
Ollie was extremely lucky to have survived the bite, as the pressure-immobilisation technique wasn’t administered until they reached the hospital. A pressure bandage, along with immobilising the affected area or limb, should be applied immediately after a suspected funnel-web spider bite as it slows down the process of the venom moving through the lymphatic system. If a compression bandage is not available, a make-shift bandage can be made with stripes of cloth.
During Ollie’s tour of the venom facility at the Australian Reptile Park, they visited the funnel-web spider milking room, which houses hundreds venomous spiders. Although a little uneasy around the deadly arachnids, Ollie was interested to witness the tedious process of milking funnel-web spiders, using a tiny pipette, extracting single drops of venom at a time. The family also saw the Park’s venom processing facilities, where the venom is frozen and freeze-dried, before it is sent to Seqirus CSL in Melbourne where the final stages of antivenom production take place.
Mr Collett said, “The team puts an incredible amount of hours into our spider venom milking program. To get enough raw venom for just one vial of antivenom, we need to milk 150 spiders!
“It was incredibly rewarding for the team to meet a funnel-web spider bite survivor – to get to shake the hand of someone who’s still here today because of the work we do. It motivates us to keep doing what we do every single day, to continue our venom program and save lives.”
“We hope that sharing Ollie’s story will spread awareness of spider bite first aid and the Park’s contribution to producing venom that creates lifesaving antivenom. The program relies on public donations of funnel-web spiders. As the current funnel-web spider season is drawing to a close, we need everyone to be on the lookout for them and learn how to safely catch them and bring them in to one of our drop-off locations in the Greater Sydney & Newcastle Regions,” Mr Collett continued.
Mr Collett reiterated that “Ollie’s story is a reminder of just how serious a funnel-web spider bite can be, and it’s important that the public brush up on spider bite first aid to know what to do in that situation, whether you know or suspect that you’ve been bitten.
“Even if you’re unsure of what type of spider has bitten you, it’s crucial that you treat it as potentially life-threatening and seek urgent medical attention or call 000,” Mr Collett concluded.
Last week, the Australian Reptile Park announced the completion of the ground-breaking of its new venom milking facility by Adam Crouch MP. The facility will produce lifesaving antivenom from terrestrial snakes and Funnel-web spider venom and will allow visitors to witness the venom milking process firsthand. This immersive experience is a testament to the Park’s commitment to saving lives, and its role in contributing to the local economy through tourism. The project was made possible thanks to a $300,000 grant from NSW Health and the Liberal Government and is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.