Benji Amsden, from left, and his family Ryyan Amsden, Marc Makens and Susie Makens were all happy to see their son and brother Mike Makens, right, recover from a black widow spider bite he received Sept. 24, 2007, while putting on a sock.

File photo

Benji Amsden, from left, and his family Ryyan Amsden, Marc Makens and Susie Makens were all happy to see their son and brother Mike Makens, right, recover from a black widow spider bite he received Sept. 24, 2007, while putting on a sock.

Spider bite story fit for Hollywood

Family's hunt for black widow cure attracts national interest

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To read previous stories written about Mike Makens' 2007 spider bite and the subsequent hunt for a foreign antivenin, search "black widow spider bite."

— The story of a local family's caper to track down a foreign cure for a black widow spider bite has caught the attention of a Hollywood production company that plans to produce a special on the adventure.

"I think it just made for an interesting story," said Susie Makens, whose son Mike was bitten by a black widow spider in 2007. "I'm just excited to go to the beach."

Benji Amsden, Mike's father, said the family will travel to California next week to film initial interviews. The family enlisted the help of a self-proclaimed "expeditionary biologist" in their 2007 hunt, and Amsden traveled to Mexico City to purchase an antivenin.

The production company, Gurney Productions, produces shows such as "I Was Bitten," "Surviving Alaska" and "Bear Feeding Frenzy" for networks including the Discovery Channel. Amsden said he is not sure whether his family's story will be featured in an episode of an existing program or as its own separate documentary.

A black widow spider bit Mike, a Steamboat Springs High School student, in September 2007. Susie Makens said her son was writhing on the floor in pain within five minutes. A black widow's venom is a neurotoxin, which destroys nerves or nerve tissue and causes a tremendous amount of pain. The bites are rarely fatal.

While Mike was being treated for pain at Yampa Valley Medical Center, his family was weighing the options for further treatment. The family decided to forgo the use of an antivenin commercially available in the U.S. because of potential side effects and allergic reactions that can be particularly threatening - and potentially fatal - in children.

That decision led to an intense, weeklong chase for a Mexican alternative straight out of Hollywood. The family had learned that the Mexican antivenin has minimal side effects but that the Food and Drug Administration had not approved a U.S. version of the drug.

That's when the family enlisted the help of Terry Fredeking, the expeditionary biologist, who specializes in obtaining exotic or dangerous substances for pharmaceutical companies. His work has taken him from Mexico, where he collected vampire bat saliva, to Australia, where he collected parasites from a Tasmanian Devil.

The adventure climaxed with Amsden exchanging money for antivenin in the Mexico City airport. Back home, the antivenin was administered, and the pain that had been torturing Mike for two weeks was gone within an hour.

The experience inspired the family to create a network that will streamline the process they went through and help black widow bite victims - especially children - and their doctors get their hands on the alternative antivenin from Mexico, Amsden said, "so that kids don't have to go through this and parents don't have to make the choice" of giving their child a drug with potentially serious side effects.

That's a project Amsden said he's still working on.

"I'd like to have it up and running in a month or so," he said.

Susie Makens hopes the national attention will spur the FDA to more quickly approve the American version of the antinvenin for use in the states.

"It's proven to be safe," she said.

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