The teenager who survived a shark attack last week near Tallahassee, Florida, now faces an upcoming surgery to amputate one of her legs.
Addison Bethea, a 17-year-old from the nearby city of Perry, was scalloping in shallow waters off the coast of Keaton Beach on Thursday when a shark suddenly approached and bit her. Neither authorities nor witnesses have been able to confirm the species of shark that attacked Bethea, although people who saw it happen later estimated that the animal was roughly 9 feet long.
Bethea is scheduled to undergo a scheduled amputation Tuesday after the shark latched onto the upper part of her right leg, CBS Miami reported. Recounting details about the incident during a recent interview at the hospital where she is currently receiving treatment, Bethea explained how her older brother, firefighter Rhett Willingham, managed to fend off the shark and provide emergency medical support after pulling her to safety.
“We were scalloping for about two hours and we went to the last spot, obviously for only like 15 minutes, and we were going towards the boat and I felt like a tug,” she said. Bethea then recalled attempting to punch the shark in its nose, but noted that she was unable to do so because of its “weird position.”
“Then it tried to drag me underwater because we were in like six feet of water,” she added.
Willingham told CBS Miami that he was about eight feet from Bethea when he heard his sister yell out. “I stood up to turn around and see what was going on because it sounded like something scared her,” he said. “And she was under the water and then she came back up and there was blood all around her and I saw the shark.”
He retrieved Bethea from the shark’s hold before moving her into a boat and applying a preliminary tourniquet to her wounded leg to decrease blood loss. The siblings’ mother, Michele Murphy, praised Willingham and called her daughter’s survival “ a miracle.”
“My daughter, by medical standards, should not be alive right now and I know that,” Murphy said. “It’s a miracle she survived this and 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.”
Although Bethea faces a long recovery, the teen is optimistic about ultimately returning to the water.
“Don’t be scared of the ocean,” she said. “I had so many people comment on my Instagram saying, ‘I’m so scared of the ocean now.’ But I’m still going to get in the ocean when I heal and get better. I’m still going to do what I love, don’t just let fear overtake your life.”
Thursday’s attack is one of the latest in an alarming pattern of similar incidents. Shark attacks increased worldwide in 2021, following several consecutive years of declining numbers, with more recorded in the U.S. than any other country. Roughly 40% of the 73 unprovoked shark bites reported globally stemmed from incidents that occurred in Florida. In contrast, the National Weather Service estimates approximately 270 people in the U.S. are struck by lightning each year.