A teenager who was in hospital to have her right leg amputated on Tuesday after a shark bit her off Florida’s coast said she had no intention of abandoning her love for the water.
“Don’t be scared of the ocean,” Addison Bethea told Miami’s CBS affiliate from her bed when asked to send a message to the public. “I’m still going to do what I love – don’t just let fear overtake your life.”
Bethea said she felt compelled to defend her devotion to the seas after people flooded her Instagram account with comments expressing fear of the open waters after news of the shark attack broke several days earlier.
The 17-year-old had gone swimming at several spots on Florida’s Gulf coast on 30 June in order to collect scallops before Independence Day. While she was in waters 5ft deep off Keaton Beach, about 75 miles south-east of the state capital, Tallahassee, she felt “a tug”.
It was from the mouth of a 9ft-long shark.
“I tried to push it off me and punch it in its nose, but it was at, like, a weird position,” Bethea recalled. “Then it tried to drag me underwater.”
Her brother Rhett Willingham, a firefighter, was just a few feet away in the boat when he saw the shark lock its mouth around Bethea’s thigh.
“I heard her almost yelp … like something scared her,” Willingham told the station. “She was under the water and then she came back up and there was blood all around her and I saw the shark.”
Willingham jumped in and helped his sister fend off the creature, before pulling her into another boat, applying a tourniquet to her wounded leg and keeping her conscious while they raced back to shore.
“My daughter, by medical standards, should not be alive right now,” their mother, Michelle Murphy, told the CBS station. “I know if Rhett hadn’t been the one that was with her when it happened, we may be in a very different scenario right now.”
Bethea said Willingham’s rescue strengthened a sibling bond that was already fiercely close.
“We’ve always been close, like since forever, so this somehow brought us even more close,” Bethea said. “He’s always been by my side, and I’ve always looked up to him.”
Doctors saved her life, but were unable to salvage the entire leg, requiring that she undergo amputation above the knee.
“It’s just insane because I’ve seen other people go through things and need support and thought it’d never be me,” said Bethea.
Bethea said she was raised to love the water, and she intended to keep doing so despite the long recovery she faces. “I’m still going to get in the ocean when I heal and get better,” she said.
Indeed, shark attacks are relatively rare, with just 73 worldwide last year reported as unprovoked, though 28 of those did occur in Florida. The attack was also among a handful in the US over the Fourth of July weekend.