By DAVID MOASE
LIFE-THREATENING situations are nothing new for five-year-old George Cox.
In the first three months of his life, George twice came close to death ? first when he was born six weeks premature and later when he almost suffocated in a cot.
Last Friday, the youngster was again battling for survival after being bitten twice by a venomous brown snake in the backyard of his Glenreagh home.
That he survived may be as much to do with his father Geoff's first aid and the combined efforts of ambulance and Westpac Rescue Helicopter crews and the staff at Coffs Harbour Health Campus as George's will to live, but there is no doubt he is a survivor.
"If he was a cat, he'd only have six lives left," Geoff said.
Seeing George, now fully recovered, being chased by his brother, Riley, along the veranda of their home this week you would not know he had been fighting for life just a few days earlier.
But when the chase ends with a screen door slamming into three-year-old Riley's face, it shows just how quickly a children's game can turn sour.
The youngsters were playing together about noon last Friday when they found the snake in grass near a pond behind their home.
The animal was caught in a piece of chicken wire and the pair were going to tell a neighbour but ? boys being boys ? they could not resist touching the animal.
They patted it near the tail and when the snake did not react, George tried to touch it near the head, with disastrous consequences.
The 1.5 metre brown snake twice sunk its fangs into George's hand.
"When he came back to the house he said he had been bitten by a carpet snake," Geoff said.
"It wasn't until he showed us where it happened that we saw it was a brown."
At first, George did not seem too badly affected by the bite but once the venom began to take affect, he suffered a seizure and purple sports began to appear on his skin.
For the next 12 hours, the youngster's life hung in the balance.
His father administered first aid until ambulances, the Glenreagh Heart Start unit and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived.
George was flown to Coffs Harbour Health Campus and his young body pumped with the contents of 10 vials of antivenene in a desperate bid to save him.
"We nearly lost him when he first arrived at the hospital," his mother Cherie said.
It wasn't until late on Friday night that he was out of danger.
George is reluctant to talk about his experience but he smiles when the ride in the helicopter is mentioned. His first words after the ordeal were: "Mum, I had a ride in a real cool helicopter."
Geoff and Cherie are enormously grateful for the efforts of the helicopter crew and everyone who worked to save George.
"I hope this highlights the need for the Westpac helicopter," Geoff said.
"People often complain about the health service but for us it couldn't have worked better.
"Everyone worked together perfectly, did a great job and kept us informed all the time."
Cherie is now having second thoughts about allowing George to pat a snake at a recent reptile show.
"You just wonder if the children understand the message that some snakes are dangerous and that you shouldn't touch them in the wild," she said.
Geoff added: "In the end though, the snake that bit George was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it hadn't become caught it would have been long gone.
"The boys know to wear their boots when they go out to play and snakes are a part of living here. George is a very, very lucky boy."