A 17-year-old girl who suffered a shark attack at a Florida beach is alive today—thanks to her fighting instincts and her brother’s quick actions. Addison Bethea was scalloping in water roughly 5 feet deep near Grassy Island, just off Keaton Beach, when a shark bit her.
“And the next thing I know something latches onto my leg and I was like that’s not right. And then I look and it’s a big old shark,” the teen told Good Morning America.
Addison remembered from watching Animal Planet that you’re supposed to punch sharks in the nose in case of an attack, but she couldn’t get around to the beast’s nose the way it bit her. Still, she tried to fight it and pull it off her leg with her bare hands.
Once he saw the blood, Addison’s brother, Rhett Willingham, jumped in the water to help her. “She came back up and I saw, like, the blood and everything, and I saw the shark,” he said.
“So then I swam over there, grabbed her, and then pushed them all, kind of trying to separate them. And he just kept coming. So I grabbed her, swam backwards and kicked him and then yelled for help.”
Rhett, 22, a Taylor County emergency medical technician and firefighter, beat and kicked the shark nonstop to pry his sister loose. Once she was free, he grabbed her and placed her on his boat.
A nearby boater who saw them in distress offered to help, and Rhett transferred Addison to the stranger’s boat.
He then made a 4-foot tourniquet out of a boat rope and put it around her right upper leg to control the bleeding. Rhett called for an ambulance before using the boat to get back on land. Addison suffered severe injuries and had to be airlifted some 80 miles away to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, which initially listed her in critical condition.
She underwent emergency surgery and was stabilized. Unfortunately, she suffered extensive damage to her right leg. “The shark attacked her right leg, front quad muscle was completely annihilated,” Addison’s dad, Shane, said.
“It was devastating, a nasty, nasty wound. The vascular surgeon took the vein from the left leg and turned it into an artery for the right leg to get blood flow.” Doctors are trying to avoid taking her leg off from her hip. Surgeons will also attempt to save enough tissue from her lower leg for it to be suitable for prosthetics to be fitted.
“That she is even alive is the number one thing!” Shane said. Despite the terror she just went through, Addison is staying positive. Her friends also came to visit her in the ICU.
“She woke up and was communicating to us through typing on her phone. She was in good spirits and cracking jokes about beating up the shark,” Shane wrote in a Facebook post.
The first thing Addison asked for was a Frosty from Wendy’s. The teen is already scheduled for a second surgery to further investigate the extent of the damage and determine what treatment options are available to save her leg.
According to the sheriff’s office, it’s unclear what type of shark attacked Addison, but it was described as approximately 9 feet long. They also sent out safety reminders to all the swimmers and scallopers in the area.
“Swimmers and scallopers are cautioned to be alert, vigilant, and practice shark safety,” the sheriff’s office said. “Some rules to follow are: never swim alone, do not enter the water near fishermen, avoid areas such as sandbars (where sharks like to congregate), do not swim near large schools of fish, and avoid erratic movements while in the water.”
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