Shark victim 'lucky' to be alive
|||There are ways to reduce your risk of shark attack|
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
WAILUKU, Maui — Shark attack survivor Nicolette "Nikky" Raleigh said she feels "really lucky" to be alive and that Monday's incident at Makena State Park was a sign that her life has a purpose.
The 15-year-old just isn't sure what that is yet.
"I'll figure it out sooner or later," Raleigh said yesterday during a news conference at Maui Memorial Medical Center. "I really didn't think I would survive this. There was so much pain."
The Kihei teen is recuperating from a severe bite wound that shredded the tissue in her right calf and severed a nerve.
Raleigh was wrestling with boyfriend Shane Wilds, 17, in a foot or two of water at about 4:30 p.m. when an 8-foot-long shark knocked Wilds off his feet and ripped into the girl's lower right leg.
At first she thought it was a friend, Jessy Larson, 15, horsing around. She then saw "a huge gray thing" and the animal's "round face." Raleigh said she kicked it with her left foot before the shark released its grip and swam off.
Larson said he heard Raleigh scream and knew something was wrong by the sound of her voice. He said he saw the shark's dorsal fin as it disappeared.
Raleigh said she looked down at her wounded leg, which was "very ugly." Larson pulled his friend out of the surf and Raleigh was carried to a picnic table, where she was helped by two nurses, a doctor and two firefighters who happened to be at the Makena park, which is also known as Big Beach.
"I thought it was a dream. It was real scary," Raleigh said.
The teens said they were facing the ocean when the shark hit, and that the animal apparently had glided past them on a wave and attacked from behind. They said they didn't see any markings on the predator.
Randy Honebrink of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources said the likely suspect is some species of reef shark that may have been chasing prey fish. He said a tiger shark of the length described would have had distinctive markings. Tigers are believed to be responsible for most of the shark attacks in Hawai'i.
JOKING ABOUT SHARKS
Raleigh, an avid skateboarder and surfer who attends Kihei Charter School with Wilds and Larson, is scheduled for additional surgery today and said she was told to expect several months of rehabilitation.
Her mother and stepfather, Cathy and Ken Johnson of Kihei, said the ninth-grader can move her right leg but may require a nerve graft. Raleigh moved to Maui a little more than a year ago from New Jersey.
The three classmates had gone to Big Beach to celebrate Wilds' birthday. The boy was wearing new boardshorts Raleigh had given him as a present. The teens played in the surf for 45 minutes then got out for a while, Raleigh said. The attack occurred about 10 minutes after they re-entered the water.
Just minutes earlier they had joked about getting bitten by a shark.
"Lucky me," Raleigh said, recalling the conversation.
The students had heard about an incident last week in which the shark-ravaged remains of a diver were found at a nearby diving site and other recent shark encounters along the South Maui coastline. They had even seen sharks in the water before while snorkeling and surfing, "but they didn't ever bother me," Raleigh said.
The shoreline from Makena to La Perouse remained closed yesterday — normal protocol in the aftermath of a shark attack. Russell Sparks of the Division of Aquatic Resources said no sharks were sighted in the area yesterday, and if it looks clear this morning, the beaches could reopen.
A stretch of coastline in the same area was closed Friday after the partial remains of diver Anthony Moore, 45, of San Jose, Calif., were found at a diving spot known as Five Graves. An autopsy indicated Moore likely died before his body was bitten by sharks. Moore swam out alone from Makena Landing on Thursday afternoon and was reported missing by his wife when he failed to return.
Cathy Johnson said she was home when she got a call from Wilds reporting that her daughter had been injured by a shark. Johnson said she thought it was a prank, but then realized Wilds wasn't kidding.
"I grabbed towels and a first-aid kit," she said. "I thought that maybe Neosporin would help. ... How ridiculous was that?
"When I saw (the injury) my stomach turned. I thought, 'Oh, my God, this poor kid.' There was muscle and tissue hanging out."
Ken Johnson said they were aware of the recent shark incidents along the South Maui shoreline.
"It was always in the back of my mind, but you never think it's going to happen," he said.
"Not to my little girl," Cathy Johnson said.
She described Raleigh as a caring and helpful girl, and both mom and daughter seemed taken aback by the shark attack.
"I don't think it was meant to happen. I still don't believe it. I'm a good person," Raleigh said.
Raleigh, who wants to attend a culinary arts school in Philadelphia after high school, said she expects to return to the ocean at some point. Noting that the bite wound is on her "power foot," she also said she's eager to return to skateboarding.
Reach Christie Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.