By Sallie James
The (Fort Lauderdale) Sun Sentinel
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Members of Miami-Dade County's Venom Response Team call him a frequent flier because he has been bitten by venomous snakes so many times.
It happened again this past weekend, when longtime snake handler Albert Killian, 52, was cleaning out the cage of a deadly poisonous king cobra.
Killian was bitten by a snake that he once described as having "enough venom to drop an 8,000-pound elephant."
The animal curator at the nonprofit Everglades Outpost Inc. of Homestead was bitten in the left forearm shortly before 3 p.m. Sunday, according to Miami-Dade Capt. Ernie Jillson, who's in charge of the Venom Response Team.
Killian was taken to Homestead Hospital, where he had received more than 20 vials of anti-venin.
"It's an inherent risk that goes along with the job," Jillson said. "When you work with venomous snakes, it's not a matter of if, but when you will get bit. He wasn't doing anything wrong. He was doing what he normally does to take care of the snake."
Killian is "through the worst of it" and will likely be released in a few days, he said.
The bite from a king cobra can cause internal bleeding and respiratory failure, among other things.
"He was fortunate," Jillson said. "Without our anti-venin bank, he would not have survived."
Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department operates the only anti-venin bank of its kind in the United States, Jillson said. The agency has 43 antivenins for an array of reptile, insect and spider bites. It is currently the sole available public source in the U.S. for coral snake anti-venin.
In June, Killian spoke to the Sun Sentinel about the risks of handling venomous snakes and his love for the job. During the interview, he handled several snakes, including the king cobra that bit him Sunday, as well as a coral snake.
During the demonstration, Killian grasped the cobra with bare hands, then bent forward and kissed it on its head.
At another point, the snake swiped at Killian's bare leg.
"I've had my heart stop on me once, I've been in respiratory failure three times, and I've been in paralysis three times due to the bites of snakes," he said in June. "The worst thing about a neurotoxic bite is when you go into respiratory failure, and go into paralysis, your brain is completely awake. If someone lifts your eyelids, you can see them."
At the time of the interview, Killian told the Sun Sentinel his last venomous snake bite had occurred about four years earlier, when a Western diamondback rattlesnake struck him with a single fang during a demonstration for a group of students.
Killian, who began handling venomous snakes when he was in his 20s, considers every snake bite a learning experience. He acknowledged that the craft is risky, unpredictable business.
His left ring finger is permanently crooked from the tissue damage caused years ago by rattlesnake bite.
"Do it well when you do it, and don't do it often," Killian told the Sun Sentinel, chuckling.