SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. – Wearing goggles and a snorkel, Addison Bethea was searching for scallops in the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico when the 9-foot shark bumped into her, then bit her right calf.
The startled 17-year-old poked the shark’s eyes and grabbed its gills, and the toothy predator released her leg.
But then the shark sank its jaws into her right thigh. Terrified, she started screaming for help — “it kept biting me and biting me, and then I tried to pry 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 mangled right leg just above her knee. Now, her family is looking to her future, including weeks of rehabilitation and learning how to walk using a prosthetic leg.
“Addison, to be honest with you, the type of bite she sustained — that’s typically not a survivable bite,” said her mother, Satellite Beach resident Michelle Murphy.
“As a parent, even though it’s overwhelming that she had to have a leg amputation, I’m just grateful that she’s alive and healthy,” Murphy said.
“She’s got a long road ahead. But she’s also young, and she’s very healthy and she’s an athlete. So I think going forward, she’s going to find her purpose with this. And as a family, we’re all really supportive of her,” she said.
Murphy offers massage therapy part-time at Shades Salon in Satellite Beach. She has spent most of her time in Tallahassee since the June 30 shark attack, and she returns home every few days to help care for her mother and pets.
Now, Shades Salon is teaming up with Long Doggers to conduct a Saturday fundraising event featuring a cornhole tournament to help defray the family’s medical expenses.
“All of us that work at Shades are all moms. So it was devastating to us to even try and comprehend what she’s going through — I couldn’t even imagine,” Shades Salon co-owner Niki Perkins said.
“I’ve talked to her on a couple occasions, and it’s just such highs and lows. You know, ‘We have a good day.’ And then, a bad day,” Perkins said.
“I feel for her, just being the mom that’s trying to keep Addison’s spirits up and positive. It sounds like she’s doing a really good job of it, and it seems like Addison is definitely progressing. So we’re all just here pulling for her,” she said.
A GoFundMe page to defray the family’s medical expenses had generated more than $76,000 by Monday night.
Bethea is a cheerleader and tennis player at Taylor County High in Perry. She suffered her shark bite while scalloping in 5 to 6 feet of water near Grassy Island offshore from Keaton Beach, in Florida’s sparsely populated Big Bend region.
The shark measured about 9 feet long, the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office reported. The species was undetermined.
Addison Bethea’s brother punched the shark
Bethea’s brother, Rhett Willingham, is a 2017 Satellite High graduate who attended Eastern Florida State College’s fire training academy and emergency medical technician 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 yelp like something scared her, almost like a stingray or something like that. I sat up and I didn’t see her, and I was like, ‘Oh, she must be getting 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 over there,” he said.
Willingham punched the shark repeatedly, then grabbed it by a gill and kneed it in the jaw. The shark finally unlatched its jaws from Bethea’s thigh.
A Good Samaritan also heard Bethea’s screams, and he motored his boat to pick her and Willingham out of the water. They fashioned a rope into a tourniquet around her mutilated leg to help staunch blood loss, and they rushed her to Keaton Beach. There, a medical helicopter airlifted her 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,” a hospital press release said. She lost her quadriceps, and she sustained massive nerve and vascular damages.
Ultimately, surgeons amputated her lower leg on July 6.
“Everything happens for a reason. Obviously, it kind of sucks at first once you realize you’ve got to get it amputated,” Bethea said during a Monday phone interview from the hospital.
“I’m going to learn how to live my life with it,” she said.
Shark bite fundraiser
Long Doggers in Satellite Beach will host a Saturday afternoon fundraising event for shark bite victim Addison Bethea.
On Friday, Shades Salon personnel will sell raffle tickets and T-shirts and promote the event from 4 to 7 p.m. at the restaurant. The address is 1201 S. Patrick Drive.
The fundraiser takes place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, featuring a cornhole tournament that starts at 1 p.m. Cornhole registration costs $20.