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Florida shark attack victims recover from life-changing injuries – Orlando Sentinel

By STEPHANY MATAT (Associated Press)

WEST PALM BEACH – Days after teenager Lulu Gribbin lost her left hand and right leg in a shark attack in the Florida Panhandle, the first words her mother said after surgery were, “I did it.”

Gribbin was one of three people injured in shark attacks in Walton County over the course of about 90 minutes on Friday.

In a post on Caringbridge.org, Ann Blair Gribbin's mother said the attack occurred during her first mother-daughter beach trip with Lulu. She described the scene as “like something out of a movie” and said her daughter was on a sandbar in waist-deep water, searching for sand dollars, when she was bitten.

A man grabbed her uninjured arm, pulled Lulu out, and was quickly surrounded by beachgoers, including two doctors and a nurse. The teenager from Mountain Brook, Alabama, was then flown by helicopter to Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola.

“We will have several surgeries in the next few days and our lives will be changed forever,” wrote Ann Blair Gribbin. “Lulu is strong, beautiful, brave and so much more that I can't even list. God has a plan for her and we will be here to support her in any way we can.”

The first victim of Friday's attacks was Elisabeth Foley, a 45-year-old wife and mother from Virginia, who lost her left hand and suffered severe injuries to her midsection. Gribbin, 15, was the second person bitten and her friend McCray Faust suffered minor injuries to her foot.

Corey Dobridnia, spokeswoman for the Walton County Sheriff's Office, said in a statement Monday that the victims were in stable condition despite “life-altering injuries.” Dobridnia also urged beachgoers to pay attention to beach flags and be aware of their surroundings while in the water.

Authorities closed beaches in the area on Friday and raised warning flags indicating high danger on Saturday. Yellow flags were flying on Monday morning to indicate moderate surf or rip currents, according to the Visit South Walton website.

“We are guests in the Gulf,” Dobridnia wrote. “We all have to take some risk when we enter the water. That does NOT diminish the well-being of these two women whose lives have been changed forever.”

Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History's shark research program, said he believes the presence of menhaden fish – bait fish that attract sharks – may have led to the attacks. Worldwide, about 50 to 80 people are bitten each year and about five die, he said.

In Florida, the victims “just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time,” he said.

Foley's husband, Ryan Foley, wrote a statement to their church, Winns Baptist Church in Glen Allen, Virginia, saying his wife is “perpetuating and has a super positive attitude.”

“Thank God she is so strong and in great physical shape. Her faith is what is getting her through, along with countless other blessings,” Foley wrote.

Anna Harden

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