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Great Snakes Alive! Sid’s on the Mend

Times Staff Writer

Sid Vicious, Orange County’s most famous boa constrictor, is recuperating nicely from cancer treatment, the snake’s veterinarian reported Monday.

“He’s doing really well, and I’m going to be taking him back to his home at Mission Viejo High School” today, Dr. Scott Weldy said, adding that Sid also will probably be back on solid foods today.

Sid is an 8-foot, South American boa constrictor who normally lives in a laboratory at Mission Viejo High. He became a celebrity last week when UC Irvine’s Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic gave him experimental treatment for cancer of the mouth. The treatment--the first of its kind in the world--drew extensive media coverage.

The whole thing started about 7 weeks ago when students noticed a sore on Sid’s lower right jaw. Mission Viejo High biology teacher Emmett Carlson, who cares for the snake, referred Sid to Weldy, an alumnus of the high school. Weldy found that the sore

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was actually a malignant tumor. He then made arrangements for Sid’s history-making treatment at UCI last week.

Last Thursday, Sid received an injection of a dye-like chemical, chloro-aluminium sulfonated phthalocyanine. The dye concentrated in the cancerous tumor on Sid’s mouth, and specialists at the institute focused a laser on the tumor. The intense light of the laser reacted with the dye to burn away cancerous cells.

“All the signs indicate the treatment worked,” Weldy said Monday. “The tumor has dead tissues now that should slough right off the mouth. We’ll know in 2 to 4 weeks for sure, but it certainly looks like the laser and the dye did the job.”

Weldy also noted that the treatment has “potentially big significance for human patients. . . . This chemical we used on Sid hasn’t been approved for human use yet, but this treatment could help give more information about using something like this on humans.”

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Before his treatment, Sid was given some some anesthetics. As a result, he appeared lethargic and dispirited during his laser treatment.

But on Monday, as Weldy displayed the recuperating Sid, the boa seemed full of life. “He’s in good shape now,” the veterinarian said. “He likes to be held. Still, I’m going to tell the students not to pick him up very much for several days. He needs lots of rest.”

Going home to Mission Viejo High means that Sid will rejoin his boa wife, Camille. “The two are married,” biology teacher Carlson said last Thursday. “I named the male boa Sid because I thought it sounded nice with Camille. The students expanded the name to Sid Vicious.”

But the name, taken from a deceased punk rock star with a violent past, hardly fits the Mission Viejo boa, according to both Carlson and Weldy. “Sid’s pretty mellow,” Carlson said.

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Said Weldy, while holding Sid on Monday, “Sid is a nice guy. It’s good to see him feeling better again.”

Last Thursday, so many television and still-photograph crews aimed cameras at Sid during his UCI treatment that Weldy had to put cotton pads over the snake’s photosensitive eyes. Sid seemed very uncomfortable that day with all the media attention.

But on Monday, Sid hammed it up for the press as Weldy held him. The snake held his head up proudly, his black eyes staring regally.

And when a photographer began snapping pictures, Sid couldn’t resist sticking out his tongue.

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