Girl bitten by shark at Jacksonville Beach making strong recovery

By Chris Parenteau - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - A 10-year-old girl is recovering after being bitten in the leg by a shark Wednesday afternoon while in the surf near 25th Avenue South, according to Jacksonville Beach Fire Rescue.

Ocean Rescue Capt. Rob Emahiser said the girl appeared to have a 4- to 5-inch gash on two sides of her leg below the knee. 

Emahiser said family members took the girl to a nearby home, where lifeguards and firefighters met them and took the victim to the hospital. He said he hopes the girl makes a full recovery.

The girl's father, Dave Szarmack, who is a Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department firefighter, said she was taken to Wolfson Children's Hospital , where she received 90 stitches. Firefighters said the girl was in about 3 to 4 feet of water when she was bitten by the shark, which her mother said was about 3 feet long.

"She got bit on the right leg. She said she felt it and she turned around and she could see the shark and she could see the fin flailing around. She turned and yelled to her friend get out of the water! It's a shark!" Szarmack said.

Rescuers say she was bitten around 3:30 p.m. and firefighters and lifeguards arrived within minutes and rushed her to the hospital.

The shark took a giant bite out of her leg but according to Channel 4's Vic Micolucci, who visited Kaley Szarmack in the hospital, she is in strong spirits and doing well.

Though the gashes in her leg are gruesome and deep, family members said Kaley is incredibly tough and doing well despite the pain.

"Kaley is doing awesome. She had about an hour long surgery. She is recovering great. The surgeons were very pleased with how things came together. She had about 90 stitches. 90 stitches!" Szarmack said.

Dave Szarmack said that he grew up surfing and he's never seen anything like what happened to his daughter.

"You see all kinds of things as a fireman, but when you see your baby, even if it was a little blood, but this was, to see it, I was just, it was really difficult to see. It was just tough. That's my little girl," Szarmack said.

Kaley was in the ocean with friends and family Wednesday afternoon and was taking a break from surfing and was wading in waist-deep water when she said she felt a bite, and then saw the shark.

"She turned and yelled to her friend get out of the water! It's a shark! So this little girl ran, a friend of our daughter, to go get the moms. And Kaley walked herself out of the ocean," Szarmack said. "And she realized the 6-year-old was still in the water. So she turned around and went back and got the 6-year-old and took her out of the water. She pulled the little girl back out of the water."

Not only did Kaley get herself out of harm's way after just being bitten by a shark, she went back to help another little girl while she did it.

As scary as a shark bite can be, Dave Szarmack said Kaley will be fine and back out in the water in no time.

"I am just so proud of her. And so thankful that she is doing so well. You know, she's got no permanent damage that we know of at this point, and they said she is going to heal up. She'll be able to run, jump, swim and surf in not too long of healing time. Going to have a pretty big scar and quite a story to tell though," Dave Szarmack said.

Kaley's father said doctors are concerned that she might get an infection and that is why she is staying at Wolfson Children's Hospital. Doctors want to make sure that Kaley gets all the medication and treatment that she needs so that she can make a full recovery. 

Shark bite brings warning, concern, but swimmers still hitting the water

Shannon Brew said that she and her sister were actually leaving the beach Wednesday at around the same time the attack happened. Her sister said that even hearing about the attack wasn't going to keep her out of the water Thursday.

"There have been some times where, say I'd be surfing, I'll see your spinner shark. I've seen a bunch of sharks while surfing," Colleen Brew said. "I just try not to give it to much thought I guess."

Emahiser said there have been a lot of baitfish in the water, so swimmers should beware and stay clear of the schools of fish.

"If you see baitfish shelter and they are near, it's a good idea to get out of the water and wait till the water's a little more empty," Emahiser said. "When they are there, something is probably going to be there chasing them."

Emahiser says that if you see a purple flag flying from the lifeguard stands, it means there is dangerous sea life in the water. He says it's best to check with a lifeguard to find out the reason it's flying.

That's what Mark Webb did Thursday when he saw something swimming close to shore, which turned out to be a dolphin.

"That's too shallow for me; 5 feet," said Webb, who is visiting from Boston.

Asked if he was planning to go back in the water, he said, "Absolutely. Just up to my knees, though."

One other tip from lifeguards is to always swim near a lifeguard tower. They will see things in the water and alert beachgoers. 

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