Jack Walker Published

‘It All Happened So Fast’: Former Lawmaker Recounts Devastating Copperhead Attack

A man in a hospital stretcher leans back for a selfie with two young boys. They are in a hospital setting.
Doug Skaff, former state lawmaker and secretary of state candidate, poses for a selfie with his sons Alexander and Andrew, from left.
Doug Skaff

In May, former legislator Doug Skaff was taking down signs for his secretary of state campaign when he felt a sharp sensation in his foot.

He only realized what happened when he looked down and saw a copperhead. By the time he got away, Skaff was bitten four times by two separate snakes.

One month after the incident, Jack Walker caught up with Skaff about what happened, and the status of his recovery.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Walker: Doug, can you walk us through your visit to Boone County and what led up to your snake bite?

Skaff: [The] day after Election Day, May 15, just like I do every year, I go around and start taking my campaign signs down. I ran for secretary of state, so this year I had signs all around the state. I had a lot of signs out. I take pride in putting them up myself with other people. And also I take pride in taking them down as fast as we can every year. But this is the first time I ran outside of Kanawha County. So I had some signs down Route 119 in Boone County and Danville. … I was with my eight year old son, and he was just going around taking some signs down with me wherever we could. He was out there at school that afternoon.

Walker: And that’s where you encountered the copperhead, right? What happened next?

Skaff: I go up, I grab this sign and I pull one side out. It’s a two-foot by four-foot sign, a little bigger than normal. And long story short, I felt like I tagged my shoe on some barbed wire or some glass, or just something sharp, like a nail or something. And it ripped the top of my shoe on my right baby toe of my shoe. And I didn’t see anything. I just thought I snagged it, but it kind of stung for a minute. It kind of stung and it wouldn’t go away. I was like, man, maybe I cut it on something, but then it wouldn’t go away. And then about 15 seconds I take the other side of the sign down like, “Oh man! I jammed it on some barbed wire again!” And I look down, and this time it wasn’t barbed wire of course. I see this snake, which now I know to be a copperhead. I didn’t at first know what type of snake it was because it all happened so fast, but it was a good size snake, about three inches round in diameter.

Walker: Once you realized you had been bitten by a snake, how did you react?

Skaff: So it latched on. What I did was I swung my leg around. I remember grabbing my quad, swinging my leg around and banging that snake against the shrub right there, trying to get it to fall off my leg. And so it finally did and I hobbled down about eight feet back down on the ground. I kind of scoot myself on my butt over towards my car and I lean my head back and bang on the car. My son had just gotten back in the car and he gets out. He’s eight years old. I give him my phone. I was like, “I need some help buddy, snakes, snakes!” And I said, “Don’t go over there.” He was pretty cool and collected, so he’s getting my phone from the front seat, so we call 911.

A man sits in a hospital bed with medical cords connected to his body and a white sheet pulled over his body. He is looking at the camera and smiling.
Former House Minority Leader Doug Skaff was hospitalized for seven consecutive days in May over a series of four copperhead bites.

Photo Courtesy of Doug Skaff
A man sits in a wheelchair in a hospital hallway with casts on both of his legs. He is looking toward the camera and smiling.
After being discharged from the hospital, Skaff was told to use a wheelchair or walker to manage his muscle pain.

Photo Courtesy of Doug Skaff

Walker: What did the first responders do when they got you into an ambulance?

Skaff: Within probably 25 minutes I think, we got to the ER. Then there, they quickly tried to service me and get me this anti-venom stuff. [I] forgot what it’s called, CroFab or something. I don’t remember, some anti-venom stuff. And what that does is it’s supposed to stop the spreading.

Walker: Did that work?

Skaff: It did stop the spreading that first day OK. But the morning I woke up, and it started spreading again. It started going up my knee, up my leg, through my thighs, through my quads, all the way up to my waist. Same discoloration, same burning sensation. It was the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my life.

Walker: So how did they get the spreading under control?

Skaff: They ended up giving me six more doses of that stuff, so I had ten vials of the anti-venom.

Walker: What has your recovery process been like since then?

Skaff: This is week four, and what does it feel like now? So I’m still taking pain medicine and all that. I’ve been pushing it and walking, standing up on it, hobbling around. I’m still supposed to use a walker and wheelchair when I go long distances, but I’ve really pushed it trying to get my strength back. But it still hurts. I’m not gonna lie. I mean, my ankle is really hard right now. My muscle feels weird. And I don’t know, the top of my foot — it just feels like it swells up and goes down and swells up, and the bottom of my foot is still bruised. But they say my muscle, it can take a long time before my muscle gets back to normal, if it ever gets back to normal.

Walker: This sounds like a really difficult experience. I’m wondering if there’s anything you’ve taken away from this that you want to share with our listeners?

Skaff: Well, it’s just funny because I wasn’t even thinking. [There are] so many campaign signs you saw out there, and people just stepping in the same grass I did and they don’t even think. Think about how many people are cutting your grass this summer, doing the weed whacker or hitting a golf ball. And the thing I really want to stress is, anything you can do to help people, the kids. Please tell your kids to be careful when they’re out there playing in the yard and in the grass. I mean, if my eight-year-old would’ve got hit four times, I don’t know if he could have survived it.