Shark attacks teen Addison Bethea’s leg in Florida over the weekend of July 4; she is facing leg loss

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Addison Bethea was collecting scallops on Florida’s Gulf Coast for the weekend of July 4 when she felt something clamp on her leg. The 17-year-old swam in water just five feet deep on Thursday, but she knew right away that whatever was wrapped around her thigh had put her in danger.

“I was like, that’s not right,” Bethea told ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​program. “And then I look, and it’s a big old shark.”

Bethea was bitten twice by a large shark near Keaton Beach, Florida, and was only pulled away after her brother grabbed her and kicked the animal, the teen’s father said in a Facebook post. The Taylor County Sheriff’s Office confirmed in a statement that a “juvenile was bitten by an unspecified type of shark, described as about ten feet long.”

Her condition has been serious but stable as of early Saturday. Although the 17-year-old from Perry, Florida, survived the attack, she suffered “devastating soft tissue damage in her right leg,” according to a statement from Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, where she is being treated. After undergoing emergency surgery to restore blood flow to the leg, the hospital said in a statement that Bethea will undergo another procedure Saturday afternoon “to further investigate the extent of the damage to her leg and determine what treatment options are available with the goal to save her leg.”

“Right now we are dealing with every problem from day to day, but the long-term prospects for her leg are not good,” Shane Bethea, her father, wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.

Hospital officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

According to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, attacks increased in 2021 after three consecutive years of decline. The increase from 2020 is largely attributed to coronavirus-related restrictions, the museum’s data shows.

Florida is home to the most cases of unprovoked shark attacks, not just in the United States, but in the world. Researchers say 28 of 73 unprovoked attacks last year came from the Sunshine State, representing 60 percent of U.S. cases and 38 percent of global incidents.

The Florida attack came the same day that a man swimming at Jones Beach on Long Island, authorities say, may have been bitten by a shark. Doctors who treated the 57-year-old man’s laceration to his right foot identified it as a possible shark bite, prompting Nassau County police to increase patrols on the beaches over the holiday weekend, WNBC reported.

When Bethea first realized a shark bit her leg, she tried to “poke it in the eye and punch it,” wrote Shane Bethea. Michelle Murphy, the teen’s mother, went so far as to tell WOFL in Orlando that her daughter was “fighting the shark.”

“I remember enjoying watching the Animal Planet…punch [it] in the nose or something,” Addison Bethea told “Good Morning America” from her hospital bed. “And I couldn’t get to his nose the way he bit me.”

As the shark’s attack unfolded, her brother, Rhett Willingham, a firefighter and medical worker, ran into the water to help her. Willingham was stunned to see the blood around his sister—and the shark wouldn’t let go.

“So then I swam over there, grabbed her and pushed them all, kind of trying to separate them,” Willingham told ABC. “And he just kept coming. So I grabbed her, swam back and kicked him, then screamed for help.”

Bethea’s father said Willingham put the teen’s leg in a tourniquet to stop the bleeding “and kept her awake and ultimately saved her life.” The family noted that a Good Samaritan in a boat took the sister and brother back to the beach, where they were soon airlifted to Tallahassee, about 80 miles away.

“The nerve on the back of the thigh was badly damaged,” her father wrote on Facebook. “There is an unreal amount of damage to her thigh area.”

Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett described the incident to WCTV as “a tragedy”. Victor Blanco, an agent with the Taylor County Extension Service at the University of Florida, noted that based on reports from witnesses and authorities, it was possible that a bull shark attacked Bethea.

“They prefer shallow coastal waters, which means they can often come into contact with people,” Blanco wrote. “Bull sharks are often considered the most dangerous sharks to humans because of their aggressive tendencies and their ability to pull up rivers.”

While Blanco stressed that shark attacks are extremely rare, the sheriff’s office posted safety reminders to residents on social media in the days after the incident.

“Swimmers and scallopers are cautioned to be alert, vigilant and practice shark safety,” the sheriff’s office wrote. Some rules to follow are: never swim alone, do not enter the water near fishermen, avoid areas such as sandbanks (where sharks like to congregate), do not swim near large schools of fish, and avoid erratic movements in the water. water. †

The hospital stressed that while Bethea “has a long road to recovery,” she was in good spirits and grateful for all the support she’s received since the attack. Shane Bethea praised his daughter’s toughness through it all, saying she “joked about beating the shark” and asked for a Wendy’s Frosty when she was extubated. But he recognized the gravity of a situation that could leave his daughter without a bone.

“We only ask that you keep her in your prayers. She is a trooper, but she has an extremely long road ahead mentally and physically,” he wrote on Saturday. “Keep us in your prayers too, because this is our little girl.”

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