By Tom Midlane @GoldenLatrine
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Videographer / director: Ruaridh Connellan, Dan Howlett
Producer: Tom Midlane, Ruby Coote
Editors: Thom Johnson, Ian Phillips
Cody Coots is the ex-leader of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus’ Name church in Middlesboro, Kentucky, one of America’s only remaining snake-handling churches.
The dangerous ritual had already cost the Pentecostal church its previous pastor, Cody’s father Jamie Coots, 42, after he was bitten by a rattlesnake and killed in 2014.
The death of Cody’s father thrust him into the pastor’s role at the age of just 21 - making him the fourth generation to take up the snake-handling vocation.
The disturbing footage of Cody being bitten by a timber rattlesnake - the same snake that killed his his father - features in My Life Inside: The Snake Church, a two-part film from Barcroft TV.
The timber rattlesnake, also known as the canebrake, is renowned as one of North America's most fearsome snakes, due to its long fangs, large size, and high venom yield.
The snake’s top fangs entered above the ear and the lower fangs bit into the ear itself, leaving Cody nauseous and unsteady on his feet as blood visibly spurts on to his shirt.
The video shows the father-of-three asking to be taken to the mountaintop to let God judge whether he lives or dies - but his fellow parishioner Cody Wynn instead took him to hospital, where he was stabilised despite major swelling to his eyes, face and airways.
Nurse consultant Radwa Martin said: “When Cody first arrived at the ER, it was difficult for him to communicate. Where the snake actually bit him was close to the temporal artery, so he’s lucky he didn’t bleed to death prior to arriving at the hospital.
"After the ER physician was able to secure an airway for Cody, they airlifted him to the University of Tennessee hospital where he remained on life support for quite a while, they didn’t know if he would pull through.”
Speaking during his recovery, Cody said: “I feel like maybe there’s part of me missing, I’m always worn out, I don’t feel like I can go another day, I’m always having chest pains and puking my guts up. It’s taken a toll on me."
Cody survived and despite his near-death experience, he says his ordeal will not stop him handling snakes until he dies.
He said: “These snakes are part of the Bible, and I’m going to put that before anyone. But if you’ve not been raised up in it, you’ll look at it like “Man, those people are crazy”.
“I’ve seen a lot of people bitten, I’ve seen them suffer, I’ve seen them come close to death.
“But I do believe that if you get bit and you have to suffer, that there was something wrong, either that you didn’t move when God told you to, you went against what God said, I do believe that.”
The church’s unique practice is inspired by biblical verse Mark 16:18 where Jesus says to his disciples that true believers will be able to “pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them at all”.
Their literal interpretation of the verse leads many in the congregation to pride themselves on the number of snake bites they have received without dying.
Snake-handling churches started appearing in the Appalachian Mountains over a hundred years ago.
The snakes used in the services are all caught and kept by the congregation.
Cody’s mother, Linda Coots, added: “We are a normal family, we love each other like normal families love each other. If a snake could bite you and never hurt you, it wouldn’t be a sign to the unbelievers."