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Girl survives shark bite with help of ECU surgeons

By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

Watch Lucy and her family on "Today," Tuesday, July 26.

Lucy Mangum, 6, smiles for the cameras Tuesday as she, her parents and Dr. Richard Zeri, third from left, talk about last week's shark attack in Ocracoke, which injured Lucy's leg. Photos by Cliff Hollis
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (July 26, 2011)   —   Smiling, making faces and snuggling with a stuffed dolphin, 6-year-old Lucy Mangum looked to be having fun early Tuesday morning.

That must have been a great relief for her parents, who just a week earlier watched what had to be a terrifying scene unfold on a North Carolina beach as a shark tore at their daughter's foot as she floated in the shallow surf, and they reassured her she wouldn't die there on the sand.

"It's been quite a week, but we're glad she's going home today and the rehab's starting soon," said Craig Mangum, as he, his wife, Jordan, and Lucy spoke with local and national television reporters about their experience and the care they received from Dr. Richard Zeri, an East Carolina University surgeon, and the staff at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.

It began July 20 about 5:30 p.m. at Ocracoke Island. The Mangums and their four children were on the beach. Lucy and her younger sister were practicing riding boogie boards in the surf. That's when Jordan Mangum heard Lucy scream.

She ran to her daughter and saw a shark about 4 feet long biting the little girl's right leg and foot. The shark let go and swam away as quickly as it bit. Mangum lifted her little girl from the water and clutched the muscle and tendons that were dangling from her leg.

"I knew I was seeing part of her leg I shouldn't see," Mangum said.

By that time, her husband, an emergency physician, was by her side. They got Lucy onto the beach and kept pressure on her wound to stanch the bleeding. A bystander called 911, and Ocracoke EMS crews were on the scene in minutes. They administered first aid and drove Lucy to the island helipad, where an EastCare helicopter arrived in 35 minutes.

EastCare nurses loaded Lucy onto the aircraft for the flight back to PCMH and its level I trauma center.

"She told the crew, ‘You know, this is the first time I've been bitten by a shark,'" Jordan Mangum said.

A little while later in Greenville, a trauma team of ECU surgeons and PCMH nurses pored over Lucy and prepared to rush her to the operating room. Meanwhile, Lucy's parents faced a tense four-hour trip via ferry and car to get from the remote island to their daughter's side.

Dr. Richard Zeri, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at ECU talked by phone with the Mangums to reassure them.

"He and I had a great conversation on the phone," Craig Mangum said. He told his wife, "This is our guy. This is the guy who's going to fix Lucy up."

In the O.R., Zeri found severe muscle and tendon damage along with a severed artery that he stitched back together. He made another discovery: The shark's bite stopped just shy of causing irreversible damage that could have led to an amputation below the knee.

"The injury avoided one of the main nerves in her foot, so she was very lucky in that respect," Zeri said. He said the shark bit Lucy twice.

Zeri later performed a second surgery to clean the wound, further assess it and stitch it up for good. He expects Lucy to be walking in a few weeks. ECU trauma surgeons also participated in Lucy's care.

"She's ready to go home today," he said. "She's happy about that. I expect her to recover fully. Incredible little girl, very composed, very brave. This entire week I haven't seen a single tear that she's shed."

Craig Mangum works at WakeMed in Raleigh and occasionally at the Outer Banks Hospital in Nags Head. His family frequents Ocracoke Island, where the isolated stretches and shallow surf make the beach a favorite of his family, and he plans to keep taking them there despite last week's attack.

"I've never heard of a shark attack on the Outer Banks," he said. "I've been working here probably three-four years." But the family will likely avoid the water in the early morning and evening hours, said to be the time sharks feed.

And memories of that day and Lucy's words as her parents held her leg together aren't likely to fade.

"She was amazing," Jordan Mangum said. "She asked, ‘Am I going to die?' and I said absolutely not.

"She said, ‘Dad can we say a prayer?' So we said a prayer on the beach. Her faith and optimism were just amazing."

Shark attacks are rare in North Carolina. From 1935-2010, 41 attacks were reported. Three of them were fatal, the most recent on occurring in 2001, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Witnesses described the one that bit Lucy as a blacktip shark, a widespread breed known to migrate to North Carolina in the summer.

On Monday night, the family was talking about the attack. Previously, Lucy had said she hated sharks now. But she had a change of heart. She told her parents she forgave the shark.

"He really didn't mean to do it," she said Tuesday morning. "He thought I was a fish."

As the family looked forward to heading home to Durham and rehabilitating Lucy's leg, Jordan Mangum reflected on the past several days and anticipated the coming weeks.

"It's a good ending," she said. "She's going to be running, dancing, twirling like she did before. We're so thrilled with the care she's received here, and she's excited about moving around in the wheelchair."

Lucy clutches a stuffed dolphin during Tuesday's news conference.
Lucy clutches a stuffed dolphin during Tuesday's news conference.
Dr. Richard Zeri
Dr. Richard Zeri


Contact: Doug Boyd | 252-744-2482