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Shark victim's doctors look for signs of brain damage

Jessie Arbogast  

PENSACOLA, Florida (CNN) -- Doctors of an 8-year-old boy who survived a shark attack that severed his arm and part of his leg and initially left him with no blood flow are looking for any signs of brain injury.

Jessie Arbogast of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, was still in critical condition early Wednesday in a light coma, doctors said during a news conference.

One of his neurologists, Dr. Tim Livingston, said doctors will study a new brain scan to see if there are any significant changes. He said it's likely Jessie has suffered some kind of a brain injury, although EEG tests showing some brain activity "give us hope that there is some chance for recovery."

Livingston said the extent of the brain damage, if any, may be known as soon as Friday.

Jessie underwent another round of surgery Tuesday evening to prepare his skin for the process of grafting, said Sacred Heart Children's Hospital spokesman Clay Destefano, and came out of the procedure with no change in his condition. Jessie also had another round of kidney dialysis. All of the boy's organs were affected by the total blood loss from the shark attack.

CNN's Brian Cabell reports on how Jessie Arbogast is faring (July 9)

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Dr. Greg Smith talks about Jessie's chances of recovery (July 8)

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On the scene: Outlook mixed for Jessie  
On the scene: Biggest threat is brain damage  
Jessie's uncle makes 911 call
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A woman makes 911 call after the shark attack
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Earlier in the day, doctors said they were "walking on eggshells," concerned over the danger of life-threatening brain swelling.

"The risk that he is in at this point in time is still dying from this ordeal related particularly to cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain," said Dr. Rex Northup, chief of pediatric care at the hospital.

He said the boy remained unconscious in what he described as a "comfortable sleep." However, Northup said the boy has entered the theoretical peak time for brain swelling.

"If the injury was so severe that it is going to cause [a high] degree of swelling in the brain ... then the brain is not survivable anyway, regardless of what you do," he explained.

Northup explained that the brain is particularly vulnerable to severe blood loss, which causes organs to swell as they attempt to heal.

"As the brain swells ... unlike these other organs, if that swelling is excessive, the pressure inside the skull will rise," Northup explained. "If that pressure rises higher than his blood pressure, then the blood flow to the brain stops, and at that point in time we lose him.

"That has been the big concern."

A 7-foot bull shark attacked the boy Friday in knee-deep water off the Florida Panhandle, severing his right arm and biting a large chunk of muscle from his right thigh. The boy's uncle, Vance Flosenzier of Mobile, Alabama, stopped the attack and wrestled the shark to shore.

Jarred Klein, a park ranger, shot the shark several times, killing it.

Emergency medical technicians retrieved the arm from inside the shark's mouth and preserved it so that doctors at Baptist Hospital could reattach it in 12 hours of surgery.

The reattached limb was "pink, warm [and] with a good pulse," Northup said Tuesday.

Jessie's heart stopped after the attack, and his aunt and medical technicians performed CPR on him for 20 to 40 minutes as he was transported to the hospital. Though his uncle tried to stop the bleeding by tying beach towels around the boy's arm and leg, "he lost pretty much all his blood," said Dr. Jack Tyson of Baptist Hospital.

Jessie had recently completed second grade and was with his family at a beach about 90 minutes from his home, a family spokeswoman said.

His parents and grandparents are with him at Sacred Heart, and doctors said Tuesday they appeared to be well-rested and appreciative of the outpouring of concern from people around the world.

Sister Jean Rhodes, who heads the hospital's pastoral program, said e-mails have been coming in for Jessie from as far away as Australia and England. She said several prayer chains have also been started in his name.

Jessie's grandmother has set up a fund to accept donations to help pay medical expenses. It is the Jessie David Arbogast Medical Fund, c/o Hancock Bank, Ocean Springs, Mississippi, 39566.

Shark attacks are rare events, said George Burgess, the director of the Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. "The reality is, you've got a better chance of winning the lottery than being attacked by a shark," he said.

• Gulf Islands National Seashore (National Park Service)
• International Shark Attack File
• Sacred Heart Children's Hospital

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