Steve Ludwin, a 42-year-old snake obsessed rocker from California, is one of a just a handful of people who regularly inject venom from the world’s deadliest snakes into their bloodstream, in the belief that it will make them immune to it.
Around 100,000 people around the world die from snake bites every year, and another 250,000 are permanently disabled, but these statistics don’t seem to scare Steve Ludwin. Every week for the past 23 years he has been injecting a venom cocktail from the world’s most dangerous snakes, trying to train his antibodies to resist the poison. By gradually increasing the quantity and frequency of the injections, he believes one day he will become immune not only to snake poison, but other viruses as well. Steve currently has a collection of 28 potentially deadly reptiles in his home, but he is always on the lookout for new additions, scouring European countries for missing specimens and attending snake conventions. On injection days, he expertly milks his snakes for a few milligrams of venom and visits an immunologist to have his killer shot. Within minutes, the muscles in his arm quadruple in size for around 24 hours, as his white blood cells struggle to fight off the poison. The doses he can take these days would kill the average person, but Steve usually goes to a rock concert right after the injection…
Steve Ludwell has always been fascinated by snakes. “I admire them for their design and cold-bloodedness. I admire their strength and success as a species, but I can’t explain my obsession – I’ve loved snakes since I was born,” he told Bizarre Magazine. When he was six year old he had his first painful encounter with a slithering reptile. He spotted a garter snake while waiting for the school bus and instantly grabbed it. The creature turned and bit him on his thumb but Steve wouldn’t let go. He walked home down a dirty Connecticut road crying in pain, but still holding a firm grip on his snake. Two years after this experience, his father took him to the Miami Serpentarium, where he met Dr. Bill Haast, the first Western man to willfully inject snake venom into his body. Haast died in 2011, at the age of 100, but according to some sources he was a “picture of health” even in his final days. Meeting the snake expert fueled Ludwin’s obsession with danger, and at age 17 he vowed to follow his example. “I was alone at home, listening to AC/DC, and I suddenly felt as though a lightbulb or an atom had exploded in my brain,” he says. “Something told me I had to inject snake venom. It was a feeling I can’t explain.”
He didn’t jump at the opportunity of injecting venom into his system. He got a job at a lab in Walthamstow, London, and started taking snakes home to experiment with. He started by rubbing snake venom on his skin and then washing it off as soon as he felt the corrosive burn. Even this made his skin swell and turn a different color for several weeks, but he pushed on with his experiments. He started injecting very small quantities of venom and gradually increasing the dosage. Around ten years ago, the reaction to the poison became less dramatic as his body started getting used to it. Then, two years ago, he learned he wasn’t as immune as he thought. He had milked three of his most dangerous snakes – a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, a Pope’s Tree Viper and an Eyelash Viper – and tried to inject a small amount of the venom cocktail into his left arm. At one point, the syringe plunger got stuck, and Steve accidentally pushed the whole thing into his body. “It felt like a shotgun went off in my arm,” he recalls.
15 minutes after the accident, his arm had doubled in size, his lips and tongue were swollen and the toxins started attacking his internal organs. Convinced he was already strong enough to fight off the poison, Steve decided not to go to the hospital and instead opted to watch David Attenborough’s TV series on reptiles, Life In Cold Blood. After a night of indescribable pain, he woke up from his shallow sleep to see his arm had turned black with a sagging sack of fluid at the elbow. He finally decided to give in and rushed to the hospital. Only they didn’t have the anti-venom for all three snakes. Venom expert David Warrell, from Oxford University, told Steve: “You’re going to lose your arm, and you’re going to die.” After three days in intensive care, Ludwin ripped out his IVs and discharged himself against doctors’ orders. He underwent a series of tests to see if his internal organs had been affected by the venom, but results showed he was in tip-top shape.
As crazy as Steve Ludwin’s story may seem to most people, he is definitely on to something. Immunologist Dirk Budka says he was stunned when he noticed his blood destroyed 70-100 per cent of venom bacteria. “He’s amazing,” Budka says. “His immune system may be strong enough to develop a medicine for the future.” Ludwin himself is convinced he is on the right path. “Injecting venom is like your immune system doing the Jane Fonda workout video,” he says. “When a cold or any of those swine flu things enter my body, my white blood cells laugh it off.” He plans on testing his body against serious threats, like the malaria virus and parasites like the tapeworm, just to see if he can handle them.
WARNING: Injecting snake venom is dangerous, please don’t try it yourself! Steve Ludwin has decades of experience working with snakes and takes a huge risk every time he puts it into his body.
Photos: Bizarre Magazine