Over his career as a rattlesnake handler, Jackie Bibby has gotten bit — several times. It’s been a part of the job. But snakebite number 11 would change Bibby’s life forever.
While performing in a private show in Addison on Sept. 12, Bibby was holding a snake with a pinner and showing him to the 300 people in attendance when he stepped too close to one of the very large snakes. The Western Diamond back rattlesnake Bibby got earlier in the year struck him a few inches above his boot.
“I remember getting helped out of the pit and passing out in the hallway,” Bibby said. “I came to right before the ambulance showed up.”
Bibby made it to the hospital and into surgery quickly, but the damage was already done. When doctors first told Bibby they would have to amputate, he looked at them in disbelief. He started arguing with them.
“I was like, ‘Surely, you’re not going to take my leg over a snakebite. It’s my 11th bite and I still have all of my parts,” Bibby said. “It wasn’t until they showed me pictures of my leg from surgery and told me how I almost died the first night when I realized it was more than just a bite. I got so much venom that it just killed my leg.”
On Sept. 14, Bibby had his right leg amputated below the knee and has had 10 other surgeries since then to remove dead tissue. All of the additional surgeries lead to having to amputate above the knee.
“The doctors tried hard to not have to go above the knee because my leg would fit with the prosthetic better if the amputation was kept below the knee,” Bibby said. “But the bone was so deteriorated that they had to go above the knee. Once they did that, I started recovering faster.”
A month after he was admitted into the hospital, Bibby was released. Despite the situation he’s facing, Bibby’s not going to let that incident hold him down.
“It was a life changing event — not only because I lost my leg, but I realized the number of people that truly cared about me,” Bibby said. “I was really impressed by the out pouring of love because I didn’t think I had that many friends or fans. It was very humbling to learn that there was so many people who cared.”
Bibby has slowly started to get back into his routine, including going back to work at his other job, a certified outreach specialist for Summer Sky in Stephenville. With his job, Bibby travels to a different county everyday — something that has been difficult since the incident.
“It’s been hard getting around with the crutches,” Bibby said. “It was a nightmare for the first few days on the crutches. Not being able to be as mobile as I was has been the hardest part of all of this.”
Without health insurance, Bibby knows it’s going to be tough to get to the next step of his recovery — getting a prosthetic. The prosthetic he has looked at is estimated to cost $50,000 on top of his climbing hospital and other medical bills because of the snakebite.
Since Bibby has been a big part of the Brownwood Jaycee’s Rattlesnake Roundup, members will host a brisket sandwich fund-raiser from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today in the Hastings parking lot.
“We decided to host this fund-raiser for Jackie who is one of our own,” Jaycees vice president Pat McLaughlin said. “He started with the Brownwood Jaycees years ago and has contributed so much to our community.”
Sandwiches will be $6 and include chips and a drink. Members of the Goat Willies BBQ will be cooking the brisket for the sandwiches. Tahiti Texas Snow Cones will be offering free snow cones for donations. Delivery will be available for Brownwood and Early business that call in and place multiple orders for no additional charge.
“We invite everyone to come out and have some brisket and snow cones,” McLaughlin said. “Help us help Jackie.”
Business in Brownwood and Early can call McLaughlin at (325) 642-6809 to place multiple orders for delivery at no extra charge.
Parts of Bibby’s recovery will be featured in season two of Rattlesnake Republic, an Animal Planet show that follows the lives and adventures of four teams of rattlesnake handlers. Season two premiers at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18.
“The filming crew wasn’t there when I got bit,” Bibby said. “But, they did come by the hospital and have been very supportive of me — like everyone else, they sent me candy, flowers and cards.”