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Doctor tells of rush to save boy after shark attack

8-year-old in intensive care after surgery to reattach severed arm

A lifeguard stands over the Bull shark that attacked an 8-year-old boy on Friday.  

PENSACOLA, Florida (CNN) -- A doctor involved in the rush to save an 8-year-old after he was attacked by a shark off Florida described on Sunday how the boy was flown to a hospital by helicopter while his severed arm was delivered by ambulance moments later.

The Mississippi boy had been flown to Baptist Hospital for surgery to reattach his arm and was then taken to Sacred Heart Children's Hospital, where he was in critical condition on Sunday, according to Clay Destefano, a spokesman for Sacred Heart. Both hospitals are in Pensacola, Florida.

Dr. Greg Smith talks about the recovery of a eight year-old Mississippi boy who was attacked by a shark (July 8)

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Destefano said the boy is in the pediatric intensive care unit, is unconscious and faces a number of complex medical issues. "He is an extremely sick child," he said.

The doctor who was in the medical helicopter when it responded to the scene said the boy had been flown to Baptist Hospital without his severed arm.

"Initially the arm was not with us -- our concern was with the boy who was quite critical, in fact, he was without a pulse and having CPR at the time," said Dr. Greg Smith, assistant director of Baptist Flight. "We loaded the boy in the helicopter first, asked about the arm, and it was not yet available. We didn't know where it was, in fact, and it was later that it was found still inside the shark."

Smith said they learned by radio the arm had been retrieved and was on its way to Baptist Hospital. He said the ambulance arrived with the arm, shortly after the helicopter landed.

The boy had been swimming off the Florida Panhandle on Friday night when a bull shark attacked him, tearing off his right arm and the majority of his right thigh muscle. The boy's uncle stopped the attack and wrestled the shark to shore, said Ranger John Bandursky of the Gulf Island National Seashore Park.

Jarred Klein, a park ranger, shot the shark three times to loosen its jaws, killing the creature. Emergency medical technicians then retrieved the arm from inside the shark's mouth.

The shark also bit a majority of the thigh muscles on the boy's right leg. Baptist Hospital spokeswoman Pam Bilbrey said doctors there were "upbeat" the boy would regain full function of his leg.

A team of physicians at Baptist Hospital, led by Dr. Ian Rogers, reattached the boy's right arm at Baptist Hospital during a 12-hour overnight operation that ended Saturday morning.

Smith said the arm had been bitten off "fairly cleanly" about six inches below the shoulder.

Before he was transferred, a statement from Baptist Hospital said the boy had no signs of infection and was showing signs of recognizing his family.

But Destefano downplayed reports the boy was making strides in recovery, saying he is not out of the woods yet. "He was looking better, but he has a long way to go," he said.

• Gulf Islands National Seashore (National Park Service)
• International Shark Attack File

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