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'She’s embracing it': Florida teen will have leg amputated after shark attack

The teen's brother fought off the shark and pulled his sister into a nearby boat, according to the family.

TAYLOR COUNTY, Fla. — A 17-year-old girl is set to have her leg amputated after being attacked by a 9-foot shark at a Florida beach, according to the Taylor County Sheriff's Office.

The attack happened Thursday on Keaton Beach, about an hour and a half southeast of Tallahassee.

Deputies say Addison Bethea was scalloping near Grassy Island in water about 5 feet deep when she was bitten. In a statement, the girl's family later said she was bitten twice, with the shark mainly attacking her right thigh.

"She tried poking it in the eyes and punching it but it would not turn loose," they wrote.

That's when a family member "reportedly jumped in the water and beat the shark until the juvenile was free," the sheriff's office wrote on Facebook.

This family member was Addison's brother Rhett, who is a first responder/firefighter, according to the family. He reportedly fought off the shark and pulled his sister into a nearby boat.

"Rhett put a tourniquet on her leg to minimize blood loss to the massive injury and kept her awake, ultimately saving her life," the statement read.

The type of shark that attacked was unclear, but it was described as approximately 9 feet long.

The girl was airlifted to a Tallahassee hospital with serious injuries. According to the family, she underwent emergency treatment on her leg but "there is an unreal amount of damage to her thigh area."

The family said doctors were monitoring Addison's leg day by day to see what treatment was needed. She did, however, wake up "in good spirits and cracking jokes about beating up the shark." 

Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare shared that Addison underwent a second surgery on Saturday with the goal of saving her leg. On Sunday, the hospital said she would need to have part of her leg amputated due to the devastating loss of muscle and massive nerve damage.

“This is the best-case scenario for Addison, and the best option to get her back to the most normal life possible,” Addison’s mother, Michelle, shared in a message to the hospital.

Doctors worked to preserve as much of Addison's leg as possible, successfully restoring blood flow to part of her lower leg, according to Tallahassee Memorial. This will help with tissue reconstruction so Addison can use a prosthetic after her leg is amputated just above the right knee.

“Addison got a little emotional today when we told her about the amputation,” her mother said. "But, she has accepted it, and she knows this is her best path forward. She’s embracing it and trying to keep a positive outlook."

The hospital said Addison's surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, but in an update, the teen's mother said the procedure will be moved to Wednesday at  7:30 a.m. "due to the fact it’s such a complex case."  

In 2021, Florida had the most unprovoked shark bites in the U.S. with a total of 28, according to the Florida Museum's International Shark Attack File. Hawaii had the second-highest total with only six reported unprovoked bites.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says that while the chances of getting bitten by a shark are extremely low, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. This includes swimming in groups, removing any shiny jewelry and avoiding the water if you're bleeding from an open wound.

Florida's shark population includes species ranging from only a few feet to up to 40 feet in length, with none of them seeing humans as a food source, according to the FWC. Wildlife experts believe that most shark attacks are cases of mistaken identity, which is why most of them are "bite-and-release."

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