Emergency management director: Beach bystanders saved shark-bite victims’ lives

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Brunswick County Emergency Services Director Brian Watts credited the quick response of bystanders on the beach–including one off-duty paramedic from Charlotte–with helping save their lives of two shark-bite victims who were injured in separate attacks on Sunday about 20 yards offshore of Oak Island.

“The bystanders saved those kids’ lives,” Watts said about a 12-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy who suffered serious injuries in the attacks. “There is no doubt.”

The girl and the teen are in stable condition at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, but both victims lost an arm in the attacks, which were reported about an hour apart on Sunday. The off-duty paramedic was in the water near the 12-year-old girl when she was bitten. She pulled her out of the water and helped stop the bleeding, Watts said.

“The child would have bled to death if it wasn’t for her,” Watts said.

Dr. Gordon Hooks, a surgeon at New Hanover Regional Medical Center who performed surgeries on both shark-bite victims, also acknowledged first responders’ and beach bystanders’ quick response.

“We also want to send out a ‘thank you’ to all the bystanders and the EMS workers that responded to this accident,” Hooks said. “It’s certainly because of their actions that the patients were able to get to New Hanover Regional Medical Center.”

Watts said the quick response of the beach bystanders was especially important since the beach doesn’t have lifeguards and it takes first responders eight to 10 minutes to respond to the beach.

“I think things that anyone can think of when they come upon the scene of a traumatic accident is to first off, No. 1, make sure someone calls 911,” Hooks said. “I think in this instance, it mobilized a lot of support. Once that’s been taken care of, the one thing we stress–especially in situations where they’re bleeding–is to try to maintain pressure of what’s bleeding and certainly tourniquet pressure has been shown to save lives.

“There’s been a lot of data that has come out of the Middle East that tourniquets are now first-line therapy for all military personnel. I think in this case, folks were using whatever they could until EMS was able to put definitive tournaquets on them. Certainly, once the bleeding is controlled, protecting folks’ airways, keeping them warm, keeping them dry and just supporting them until the first responders can arrive and take over.”

Biologists with UNCW and with the University of Northern Florida told Port City Daily that shark attacks of this nature are incredibly rare for the North Carolina coast. Hooks agreed.

“Most shark wounds that we see here in southeastern North Carolina are simply flesh wounds, where the shark mistakes an individual’s foot or leg for a fish and immediately realizes that it’s not a fish and lets go,” Hooks said.