SATELLITE BEACH, Florida. – Addison Bethea was wearing goggles and a snorkel and was searching for scallops in the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico when the 9-foot shark jostled her and then bit her right calf.
The startled 17-year-old poked the shark’s eyes and grabbed its gills, and the toothy predator let go of her leg.
But then the shark sank its jaws into her right thigh. Terrified, she started screaming for help — “it bit and bit me, and then I tried to break it off with my hands and my fingers,” she recalled.
Bethea has endured five surgeries at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare since the June 30 shark attack, and doctors amputated her mutilated right leg just above her knee. Now her family looks to her future, including weeks of rehabilitation and learning to walk with a prosthetic leg.
“Addison, to be honest, the kind of bite that she took — that’s not usually a survivable bite,” said her mother, Michelle Murphy, who lives in Satellite Beach.
“As a parent, I’m just grateful that she’s alive and well, even though it’s overwhelming that she had to have a leg amputation,” Murphy said.
“She has a long road ahead of her. But she’s also young and she’s very healthy and she’s an athlete. So I think that she will find her destiny with that. And as a family, we’re all really supportive of them,” she said.
Murphy offers part-time massage therapy at Shades Salon in Satellite Beach. Since the June 30 shark attack, she has spent most of her time in Tallahassee, returning home every few days to take care of her mother and her pets.
Now, Shades Salon is partnering with Long Doggers to hold a fundraiser with a cornhole tournament on Saturday to help meet the family’s medical expenses.
“All of us who work at Shades are all mothers. So it was devastating for us to even try to understand what she was going through – I couldn’t even imagine it,” said Niki Perkins, co-owner of Shades Salon.
“I’ve spoken to her a few times and it’s just such ups and downs. You know, ‘We’re having a good day.’ And then a bad day,” Perkins said.
“I feel with her that I’m just the mom trying to keep Addison in a good mood. It sounds like she’s doing a really good job, and it seems like Addison is definitely making progress. So we’re all just here, moving after her,” she said.
A GoFundMe page to help cover the family’s medical expenses had raised more than $76,000 as of Monday night.
Bethea is a cheerleader and tennis player at Taylor County High in Perry. She suffered her shark bite while scalloped in 5 to 6 foot deep water near Grassy Island off the coast of Keaton Beach in Florida’s sparsely populated Big Bend region.
The shark was about 9 feet long, the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office reported. The species was indefinite.
Addison Bethea’s brother hit the shark
Bethea’s brother, Rhett Willingham, is a 2017 Satellite High graduate who attended Eastern Florida State College’s Fire Training Academy and Paramedic Program. He now works as a Firefighter EMT for Taylor County Fire Rescue.
Willingham was swimming near Bethea when the shark attacked without warning.
“I heard her howl like something startled her, almost like a stingray or something. I sat up and didn’t see her, and I was like, ‘Oh, she needs to get a scallop’ — and then she shot out of the water and started screaming,” Willingham recalled.
“I saw her and the shark — and then the blood — and then I just swam there,” he said.
Willingham hit the shark repeatedly, then grabbed it by a gill and kneed it in the jaw. Finally, the shark released its jaws from Bethea’s thighs.
A Good Samaritan also heard Bethea’s screams and steered his boat to get her and Willingham out of the water. They formed a rope into a tourniquet around her mutilated leg to stop the blood loss and rushed her to Keaton Beach. From there, a medical helicopter took them to Tallahassee.
The TMH trauma team stabilized Bethea, and a surgeon performed emergency surgery on “devastating damage to the soft tissue in her right leg,” according to a hospital press release. She lost her quadriceps and suffered massive nerve and vascular damage.
On July 6, surgeons finally amputated her lower leg.
“Everything happens for a reason. Obviously it kind of sucks at first when you realize you’re going to have to amputate it,” Bethea said during a phone interview Monday from the hospital.
“I’m going to learn to live my life with it,” she said.
Shark Bite Fundraiser
Long Doggers in Satellite Beach will be hosting a fundraiser for shark bite victim Addison Bethea on Saturday afternoon.
On Friday, Shades Salon staff will sell raffles and t-shirts and promote the event in the restaurant from 4pm to 7pm. The address is 1201 S. Patrick Drive.
The fundraiser will take place on Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and will include a cornhole tournament starting at 1:00 p.m. Registration for the Cornhole is $20.
For copyright information, please contact the seller of this item, Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida).