Instead, she had been pulled under by a shark that latched onto her leg in a terrifying attack that she survived only after her father jumped into the water and fought off the shark.
“Like, what’s happening?’” Winter, her long hair dyed the color of coastal waters, told “Good Morning America,” recalling her first reaction. “Then it just starts. Like a dog [when] they get a rope and you grab the other rope and they just start going — like with their whole body . . . I remember giving up for a second, and then I just start like laying there . . . and then I was like, ‘no, wait a minute, I can’t do that. Like, that’s not an option!’”
The New Bern, N.C., teen lost her left leg at the knee. Her hands, now missing several fingers, were heavily bandaged as she explained how she tried to fight off the shark but could not pry open its jaws during the attack, which occurred around noon as she swam near Fort Macon State Park.
“I’m like, ‘I’m 17, like, please don’t let me die. Like, I’m not ready to die, I have stuff to do. Like, so much,’” she said of her prayers. “My body went into shock. So I couldn’t feel anything, I just knew it was bad.”
Her father did what she could not, punching the shark until it let go, and then carrying her ashore over his shoulder. “You could see where she was because you could see pink on the water,” Charlie Winter told “GMA.”
“ . . . I pulled her up. You could see the shark come up right with her. And then I just immediately, just start beating it with everything I could. He was just staring at me sideways, just with the biggest, blackest eye piercing. It was just no negotiating with it.”
He carried her ashore and she was airlifted to a trauma center where she underwent multiple surgeries for injuries to her leg, pelvic and hand areas. As she adjusts to her altered life, she reminded viewers, she still bears no animosity toward sharks.
“This situation has urged me to learn more about sharks. Because even in the back of that ambulance and in the back of that truck, I was like, ‘Guys, sharks are still good people. Like, don’t get mad at the shark. The shark is fine,’” she said. “I was just trying to assure them that me and that shark are good, like, we’re good.”
Tyler Bowling of the Florida Program for Shark Research Bowling praised Paige’s father, who works for the City of Havelock Fire and Rescue Department. “Hitting a shark in the snout or the gills is the best defense if you are being attacked,” he told “Today.”
Charlie Winter said he did just that, recalling in a news conference last week that he didn’t “know how many times I punched it, but I hit it with everything I could and it let go.”
Eric Toschlog, the chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at Vidant Medical Center and one of Paige’s doctors, said he has “not seen a wound of this severity, ever” and estimated there are usually two or three attacks off North Carolina every year. Based on tooth markings found on Paige’s bones, he speculated that she had been attacked by a bull shark.
Paige chooses to look forward, saying that “I’m still Paigey — just a little different. I got some pieces of the puzzle missing but it’s okay.”
In case there was any doubt, her father added last week, “she’s a tough little thing.”
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