“I didn’t really know exactly what to do, but I knew that with sharks you’re supposed to punch them in the nose to get them off of you, and I couldn’t get around to punch him in the nose,” the 17-year-old told CNN. “So I just started socking it in the face and then poked its eyes and I tried to latch it off me with my fingers, and then it bit my hand.”
She screamed for help, and her brother Rhett Willingham, a firefighter/EMT, heeded the call.
“I heard her make a noise, almost like something scared her,” he said. “I sat up and looked and didn’t see her. Then she came up from the water and I saw the shark and the blood and all that, then I swam over there and got (the shark) off.”
After fighting off the shark, Willingham pulled his sister into another boat, applied a tourniquet to her leg to stem the blood loss, and rushed her back to land as fast as possible, he said.
The siblings explained the harrowing moments in an interview with CNN Monday from a bed in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, where Addison was being treated for her injuries.
The Taylor County Sheriff’s Office confirmed in a statement on social media a juvenile “had sustained a shark bite while scalloping near Grassy Island in water approximately five feet deep.” The office said the shark was about 9 feet long.
The bite left “devastating damage to the soft tissue in her right leg,” according to a statement from Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH). “The TMH trauma team stabilized her, and the trauma surgeon performed emergency surgery with a goal of restoring blood flow to her leg,” hospital officials said Friday.
The injuries appeared to have done little to dampen Addison’s spirits. Surrounded by stuffed toy sharks in her hospital bed, the teen appeared upbeat even as she said she is scheduled to have her leg amputated above her knee on Tuesday.
“It’s going to make it a lot easier in the end,” she said. “I’m excited for it, to be honest. I’m tired of sitting in bed all the time.”
“Everyone who knows me knows I take humor in everything, so, yeah, I just like stuffed sharks,” she said. “I think it’s funny. Just making light of the situation.”
In a Facebook post, her father said she had been in good spirits and was “cracking jokes about beating up the shark.”
“The first thing she asked for was a Wendy’s frosty,” he said. “She’s been through more than I could ever imagine, but she is being a trooper. Please pray for her and the difficulty of her days ahead. She isn’t out of the woods by any stretch, but she is alive and that’s what’s most important to us.”
Willingham told CNN the experience is “definitely not something I ever expected to watch, but seeing her now, and how positive she is, is good to see.”
As for her future plans, Addison was undeterred: she plans to get back in the water once she has recovered.
“I mean, a shark has always been there, it just happened to attack me that day,” she said. “I lived 17 years without a shark attack. I’m fine with going back.”