By Theresa D. McClellan
For The Fort Bend Star
Not all flood victims appreciate a helping hand.
One even bit the arm of a helper. The culprit was a copperhead snake hiding in a bin of toys. The victim is a 10-year-old girl whose family was helping another family recover from the recent flood.
Because floodwaters never reached their Missouri City home, Tara and Ruben Rocha wanted to continue their family tradition of helping others. They spent two weeks mucking out homes in Cypress and neighboring communities with their volunteer church group, Mormon Helping Hands.
Even siblings, 10-year-old Kasiana and 8-year-old Jonah Rocha, joined in serving as “bucket runners” hauling clean water to those, like her father, who were on their hands and knees disinfecting floors.
“When Harvey hit our community, you look around and it made it pretty easy to roll up your shirt sleeves and go to work. We have to give back and rather than spend the week looking for leisure things, we looked for ways to serve,” Tara said.
When Tara learned that a high school friend’s Wharton County farmhouse took on seven feet of water and the waters were finally receding last week, mom, dad, and the oldest children piled into the family truck and headed for Boling to see what they could save.
Tara had already taken her friend’s children into the Rocha home so they would not see how much of their belongings were lost in the flood.
On Sept. 6, Tara brought the homeowner’s 9- and 5-year-old children back to their home to see their house once again before it was demolished. She saw it as part of their grieving process. Little did she know that it would be her own daughter’s painful cries she would hear that day.
“The family had lost everything and we just wanted to help them as much as we could. The friend has a horse trailer and camper and someone with land took in their nine horses and all their cats and dogs. People were bringing meals. Everyone is feeling really blessed on how the community is coming together,” said Tara.
So Kasiana, her 6-year-old sister Kaelin and Ana, a 15-year-old foreign exchange student from Spain living with the Rocha family, decided to bake cookies for the work crews in Wharton.
“She wanted to make sure we had something nice for the people in the smaller towns,” Tara said.
Kasiana decided to write notes in the bags of cookies. So she wouldn’t forget, she also wrote the messages on her hand. “Hang in there” and “keep the faith.”
The flood had damaged some of the Boling roads, which were partially washed out. Street signs were missing. They arrived at the farmhouse and the 5-year-old boy who once lived there took one look and had no interest in re-entering his home. The 9-year-old ran inside with her mother to see what she could salvage.
The smell of rotting flesh was oppressive. They found dead fish in the house, crayfish in the dryer. Slime and black and green muck everywhere.
Kasiana hesitated going inside the farmhouse and was standing with her arms at her side next to a bin full of toys, including wooden blocks, dolls, action figures, Legos and a copperhead snake. She thought the contents of the bin belonged to the 5-year-old boy who was afraid to enter the house.
The snake lunged at her. Kasiana didn’t immediately feel the pain.
“When I pulled away I started to feel it. Then the blood came,” Kasiana recalled.
“I’ve never heard that sound from her before. It was hard to process what happened. The blood was streaming down her arm,” her mother said.
The pain came in waves as Kasiana cried. Her father prayed over her and gave her a blessing. She immediately calmed down. Then the parents went into action.
They were an hour away from Sugar Land, the nearest hospital. The home was hard to get to and they didn’t want to wait for an ambulance. The friend told them they needed to seek medical help immediately.
“She said all we have out here are venomous snakes,” Tara said.
They called urgent care and were told to go immediately to a hospital.
They called ahead to Memorial Hermann Sugar Land because they have a children’s emergency unit. Multi-tasking while driving, Tara said she told the children in the car to find the first aid kit and gave her daughter liquid Tylenol. There was no ice but they found cold water in a cooler and poured that over her hands while continuing to pray.
Once Kasiana was calm, her mother asked if she could remember what she was looking at before the bite. A church friend, still on the property went to the bin, dumped it and found the snake still atop the toys. He took a picture and sent it to the mother’s phone. Then he cut off its head.
After getting the pictures, doctors knew they were dealing with a copperhead snake whose bite is venomous. The aftermath is painful as the venom spreads through the muscle and blood. Doctors were waiting to administer four doses of anti-venom, but it was an hour-long ride.
“Sure they killed it. But when I saw it on the toys, that feeling that I could have lost her right there … THAT attacked my baby!” Tara said. “I kept telling myself ‘you gotta stay strong, you gotta stay strong cuz she’s on the verge of losing it.’”
“The roads were closed. I remember roads were closed; it was barricaded off. It was safe and I went around them. A road crew was there saying, “what are you doing, you could bottom out.” I told them a snake bit my baby; she was crying. I can’t imagine having an ambulance and waiting for them to get there. They would not have found us very easily.”
She said she drove the speed limit. During that hour they called United Insurance. The family was worried, not only for the safety of their daughter, but for how they would pay the bill. Their son had already gone to emergency room earlier this year and the family received a $2,600 bill. Now they were afraid they were going to a hospital that was not in their network.
Their insurance company confirmed Memorial Hermann was out of network.
“I told him we were in crisis,” Tara said. “He said he understood because he was in San Antonio. Then he put me on hold again and said because of Harvey relief funds we could go to an out-of-network hospital.”
She looked at her husband.
“He was praying and his eyes were wet,” she said.
Kasiana spent the night in the hospital with an IV. At one point they had to take blood from her and she was so anxious, Kasiana’s teeth were chattering and she was hyperventilating.
Her father returned to the hospital and calmed her down telling her about when he was in the military and a soldier was afraid of needles. They spanked the soldier and called him Spanky. The story did the trick sending Kasiana into a fit of giggles while medical personnel retrieved all the blood they needed while her father distracted her.
When she returned to the hospital for a follow-up, Ruben was again at her bedside offering tales from his childhood.
The Rochas are a close-knit family. He is a Fort Bend ISD volleyball coach and teacher. Tara teaches about the ease and use of iPads. But the Rochas did not want their children distracted, so they took away their mobile devices for the summer. The children are more receptive to play and helping others comes naturally.
Kasiana is almost philosophical about the snake bite, which resulted in her wearing a sling around her left shoulder. Her left hand still appears swollen with a slightly bluish tint. Her arm is also swollen. Authorities said the swelling could disappear between three days and two weeks.
The words of encouragement written on her hand helped get her through, said her mother. Someone told her she got the snakebite to prevent another child at the site from getting it. That made her smile.
Her younger brother Jonah is highly allergic to insects and it made them cringe to think how he would have been affected by a snake bite.
The bite hasn’t changed the family quest to help.
“When you see how much you do to serve and you see the effect it has with people calling to check on you. You know that serving is the answer. You will be taken care of and will be loved on, even when you put yourself on the line,” Tara said.