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The second bite ‘felt like a punch’: Shark attack victim recounts brush with death

The second bite ‘felt like a punch’: Shark attack victim recounts brush with death

The first shark bit him in the knee. The second shark bit him in the shoulder.

But somehow, Marlin Deere Wakeman was able to pull himself out of the water and into a boat.

And two weeks later, the 24-year-old Florida native remains amazed that he survived his brush with death in one piece.

“Thankfully, I’m here to tell the story,” Wakeman said Thursday at a news conference at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. “But, pretty crazy experience.”

Speaking for the first time since the April 26 ordeal at a marina in the Bahamas, Wakeman unspooled the kind of fish tale that his famous fisherman father, Rufus Wakeman, might tell his rapt audience on his “Mill House” podcast.

Wakeman said it happened at the Flying Fish Marina, where there are always lots of sharks around feeding on the carcasses that the fishermen dump in the water.

In fact, he said, that water is so crowded with 5 to 7-foot Caribbean Reef Sharks that at times “you can walk on their heads almost.”

“Man if you fell in here, like you’re done,” he recalled his buddies telling him. “You’re not even going to have a second to really react.”

How true those words nearly turned out to be.

Wakeman, who lives in Stuart, Florida, said he was doing some maintenance work on a boat when he suddenly slipped and fell in.

“When I ended up in the water, I pretty much knew what was going to happen,” he said. “And when he bit me, I knew what was going on. There wasn’t a second of doubt in my mind.”

Wakeman said there wasn’t time for his life to flash before his eyes.

“So it wasn’t like I was really scared at that moment,” he said. “I was just, I knew what was happening. So in my head I just I knew how to get out as quick as possible.”

Wakeman said the first shark pulled him under before letting go.

“I got really lucky he didn’t head shake or hold on for a while,” he said. “And then that’s when I was able to get back up to the surface.” 

That was when the second shark moved in and bit him on the shoulder.

Wakeman said he did not feel pain at first, put he did feel “a lot of pressure.”

“The one on my shoulder felt like a punch,” he said. “You really don’t feel the teeth going in.”

Despite his injuries, Wakeman was able to drag himself back into the boat.

“I had so much adrenaline going through my body that it was like a fight or flight kind of thing,” he said. “I got back into the boat and kind of assessed what happened and looked at my leg. It wasn’t really bleeding yet. It was kind of, you know, all mangled. “

And right about then, Wakeman said, he started screaming for help. He said his captain ran over, applied a tourniquet, and elevated his leg.

The pain, he said, didn’t kick in until they started rolling him in a wheelbarrow to the van to get him to a clinic.

“It was bleeding a lot at that point and adrenaline sort of wearing off a little bit and then we got into the van,” he said. “And when I was in the van, they took gauze. And I remember my captain, he looked at me and he was like, ‘Hey, man, this is gonna hurt really bad.’ And I was like, ‘You know, whatever.'”

That, Wakeman said, was when he blacked out from the pain.

Wakeman was flown to Florida after the medics in the Bahamas “sewed him up, you know, damage-control style,” said Dr. Robert Borrego, who is the trauma medical director at St. Mary’s. 

Judging by the size of the leg wound, Borrego said the young man was bitten by “at least a seven-footer or an eight-foot shark.”

“I’ve been dealing with this a lot and I’ve seen some people that have not done as well,” said Borrego, who said he has treated numerous shark bite victims over the past three decades. “And from hearing the story It shocks me that he was able to get out of that water.”

The fact that Wakeman didn’t lose a leg is “amazing,” Borrego added.

Wakeman is still on crutches and will need to do some rehab but should make a complete recovery, the doctor said.

His father, Rufus Wakeman, said he is especially grateful to the captain who applied the tourniquet and the fast work of the Bahamian medics who prevented his son from bleeding to death and saved his life.

“I have several friends who have been bitten and it’s a shocking revelation when you see that,” he said. “Some of the wounds these people have had to endure. And now it’s my son. It’s our son. And it’s just scary.”

For his part, Wakeman said he’s eager to get back out on the water and doesn’t think he’ll be haunted for long by his near-death experience.

“Maybe I’ll have some nightmares here and there, but I think I’ll be all right,” he said.

Corky Siemaszko

Corky Siemaszko is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital.

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