Unsung Medical Hero
In 2013, I published a collection of more than 100 essays in a book entitled, Bullets and Brains. In one of these essays, I related the story of the FDA approval of a new anti-scorpion venom medication.
Scorpion stings are a significant problem worldwide, even more common than venomous snake bites. In the United States, scorpion stings occur most often in Arizona and other Southwestern states. Many of these stings are from the Arizona Bark Scorpion, Centruroides sculpturatus. Deaths are rare, but children are especially vulnerable because of their small body mass. For example, untreated babies have a mortality of 20%.
As a neurologist, I was particularly interested because envenomation can result in unusual oculomotor symptoms, possibly due to sodium channel activation. Because of the relatively small number of patients affected each year, pharmaceutical companies had not been eager to invest in a treatment.
In 2009, Dr. Leslie Boyer published a randomized, double-blind study in the New England Journal of Medicine that demonstrated the efficacy of a new scorpion-specific anti-venom. Dr. Boyer, a pediatrician in Tucson, AZ, initiated this study because she wanted to make sure there was a treatment for affected children. As soon as the venom entered testing, ICU admissions for scorpion stings decreased dramatically. Many children and their parents now escape suffering and even mortality due to the efforts of Dr. Boyer and her colleagues.
In a recent ReachMD podcast, I've updated this inspirational story. You can listen to it here.
Thank you, Dr. Boyer!