The 61-year-old man said he was bitten during the night and didn't realize it was from a viper. He did seek treatment in Costa Rica, but due to a language barrier, was only given an antibiotic, zoo officials said.
When the man flew back to Vancouver on Monday, he immediately checked into a hospital where he was diagnosed with kidney failure and swelling from his foot to his mid-thigh.
Based on the patient's symptoms, doctors were able to diagnose the bite as from a Fer-de-lance viper whose venom can be fatal to humans.
Medics found that Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle was the closest facility that had the needed antivenin supply and gave them a call for help Tuesday afternoon. The zoo was able to get 20 vials to Harborview Medical Center, where a waiting helicopter flew the antidote to Vancouver.
Doctors said the patient's condition improved within minutes of receiving the treatment and was considered stable in six hours.
"We are just grateful that this man's life was saved and it was very exciting to work with the institutions involved," said Woodland Park Zoo spokeswoman Gigi Allianic. "We hope he makes it to Woodland Park Zoo sometime."
Allianic says the zoo keeps an emergency supply of the antivenin for Mexican species of pit vipers -- including rattlesnakes, cantils, eyelash vipers and bushmasters -- for their staff just in case because they have vipers in their collection. But the zoo is part of a national database that can supply antivenins wherever it's needed.