Hopefully, you’ve never been bitten by a snake. After all, having venom injected directly into your bloodstream sounds like a pretty horrible prospect. Well, it does to most of us, anyway. But it’s something that Steve Ludwin swears by. And there’s even a chance that it’s doing him a world of good.
Ever since he was young, Ludwin has been fascinated by animals of all kinds, but especially reptilian creatures. He was born in the United States and it was there, in Connecticut, that he caught his first snake. “It was a small, non-venomous garter snake,” Ludwin told The Guardian. And that was just the start.
Ludwin subsequently started bringing more snakes back to his house. He spent plenty of time reading about them as well. And by 1976 – at the age of just 10 – he’d convinced his parents to let him get his first pet snake. It was by no-means a small creature, though. In fact, it was a boa constrictor, which can grow to 13 feet in length.
But it was a meeting at the Miami Serpentarium that set Ludwin on the strange path that he’s become famous for. When his father took him to the Florida snake farm, he came across a man there by the name of Bill Haast, who had run the Serpentarium since it opened in 1947.
Part of the show that Haast put on at the tourist attraction involved him extracting venom from live snakes. He’d release them onto a table, catch them by hand and then make them bite into a cap on top of a vial. The venom from the snake would be released into the container. Customers at the Serpentarium would pay to see Haast perform this incredible feat.
In fact, he’s the holder of the Guinness World Record for having lived through the most deadly snake bites. That perhaps shouldn’t come as too much as a surprise, given his day job. By 2008 he’d been bitten 172 times, although Haast himself was unimpressed by his record. For him, being bitten by the snakes that he handled wasn’t something to be aimed for or emulated.
But the thing that interested Ludwin most was the fact that Haast had been injecting himself – willingly – with the venom that he collected from his snakes. It was a practice that Haast had begun when he first opened the Serpentarium and then continued throughout his life. And how long he lived for is almost certainly going to come as a surprise to you.
When Haast died, in fact, he was 100 years old. During his long life he donated his blood to help victims of venomous snake bites. And 20 people who received his blood survived their bites. Haast’s blood even underwent scientific trials in the 1950s to see if it could help to treat polio.
Speaking to the Florida Trend in 2008, Haast had some words of wisdom to impart about his life. “Aging is hard. Sometimes, you feel useless,” he said. “But I always felt I would live this long. It was intuitive. I always told people I’d live past 100, and I still feel I will. Is it the venom? I don’t know.” He died three years later in 2011 – six months after his hundredth birthday.
Ludwin began his own venom-injecting project almost 30 years ago. The first snake that he used was a green tree viper. He dripped a small amount of the creature’s venom into a little cut on his arm. This led to swelling and bruising. Most people would probably have stopped after that, but not Ludwin.
His job at the time gave him access to some of the deadliest snakes in the world. He was packing them for a business in London, where he moved in 1987. The firm delivered the reptiles to universities and zoos around the world. And eventually he started taking some of the venomous creatures home with him to “milk.” Ludwin told The Guardian that his boss “didn’t mind” him borrowing the animals overnight.
But how does it feel to inject yourself with snake venom all the time? Well, according to Ludwin, it gives him a similar sort of boost to a shot of caffeine. And it’s been 13 years since he had a cold or the flu. His routine involves injecting himself once every two or three days. But the practice, as you might imagine, isn’t without its hazards.
For instance, in 2008 after injecting a particularly strong cocktail of venom, Ludwin realized that he’d made a terrible mistake. “I put the needle into my left wrist, and as soon as the venom went in, I knew it was game over,” he said. “My hand swelled up like a baseball glove and my arm filled with fluid all the way up to my shoulder.” So, what was in that cocktail?
It was made up of three different strains of venom. They came from a rattlesnake, a green tree viper and an eyelash viper. Ludwin headed to the hospital where, understandably, the healthcare professionals on duty were surprised to find that he’d injected a cocktail of venom into himself on purpose. The shocks for the doctors and nurses hadn’t finished there, however.
Ludwin was in the intensive care unit for three days. And the doctors treating him believed that it may become necessary to amputate his arm. Thankfully, though, that wasn’t needed. Instead, after a while Ludwin felt well enough to discharge himself from the hospital. A week after he’d left, however, the doctors demanded that he came back.
When Ludwin returned, the doctors couldn’t believe their eyes. So much so, in fact, that they took photographs of the area of Ludwin’s arm that not so long ago they’d been considering chopping off. “[They] told me they’d never seen such a recovery,” Ludwin recalled. And he put it down to all of the other injections that he’d given himself over the years.
And even if you ignore the fact that he injects himself with deadly snake venom, Ludwin’s life is still certainly an interesting one. He played in a rock band called Little Hell, who toured with the likes of Placebo and Gary Numan. Ludwin now works as a writer and producer for other artists, and once auditioned to be in a band with legendary guitarist Slash.
And now the former rocker is collaborating with scientists in Denmark to try to revolutionize anti-venom production. Working with Brian Lohse, an associate professor in chemical and molecular biology from the University of Copenhagen, Ludwin has been donating blood and bone marrow since 2013.
Normally animals such as horses are utilized to create the antibodies that are used to treat people who have been bitten by snakes. But Lohse believes that Ludwin’s blood could be the key to a much easier way of creating anti-venom. “Steve is a production facility,” Lohse told CNN. “He has been like the horse, producing antibodies against all these different venoms.”
While some scientists are skeptical about whether Ludwin’s blood is really going to make a difference, Lohse claims that Ludwin is “the key to everything.” Whether or not the research is successful, though, the scientist doesn’t think that injecting venom is something anyone else should try. “Under no circumstances do we encourage him,” Lohse said. “It’s dangerous. It’s clear that he can die from this.”