Shark Attack Victim Reveals How She 'Won' Struggle with 6-Foot Creature in Florida

"I was wearing flippers and my kick wasn't doing much damage, so I decided to lean forward and start punching it," said Heather West, 42

Heather West
Heather West. Photo: Heather West/swns

Warning: The following post contains graphic imagery.

A swimmer who survived a shark attack is telling her harrowing story.

Heather West, 42, was snorkeling with friends around Loggerhead Key at Florida's Dry Tortugas National Park in January when she had the terrifying experience, SWNS reported.

"I was really excited to explore Loggerhead with these guys I'd met traveling, as they were experienced snorkelers," she told the outlet of their exploration of Little Africa Reef. "When we got in everything was fine, but then the water became really rough and tidal so we decided to head back."

West, who is from Texas but lives in a van and travels the U.S., was the last left in the water when she approached a patch of sea grass that seemed to be floating in a strange manner. She stopped and looked around, before a ripple in the water convinced her something wasn't quite right. West immediately started swimming for shore, but as she turned, she felt a strong tug on her right foot. Her initial thought was one of her fellow snorkelers was trying to scare her, although after a quick glance up, she saw they were all waiting on the shore.

Heather West
Heather West with friends. Heather West/swns

"That's when I got a strange feeling that something was wrong, and funnily enough I felt the tug on my ankle," she added. "I originally thought one of the others was just being silly, but after the second pull I knew exactly what was happening."

Then she saw a six-foot lemon shark with its jaws clamped around her foot, SWNS reported.

"I turned on my back to see this huge beast with my foot in its mouth, so I instinctively started kicking it in the face with my other foot," she said. "It kept tugging and tugging, and I could feel its teeth in my ankle."

"I was wearing flippers and my kick wasn't doing much damage, so I decided to lean forward and start punching it," she continued. "I punched it in the face over and over again as hard as I possibly could, and after about 30 seconds it finally let go."

"For the next two minutes I was in complete shock and couldn't swim, but by this point my friends had ran back in the water to help me," she added.

Heather West
Heather West.

West's companions — Greg Haw, 65, Douge Chancy, 70, and Freeman Hobs, 74 — swam back into the sea and worked together to drag her to the safety of the shore.

Her foot had been completely mangled by the shark, and it quickly became clear that she needed medical attention as soon as possible, SWNS reported.

The men then carried West inland to find help, but because they'd traveled so far out to snorkel, there was nobody nearby. They eventually came across two park rangers who were setting down rat traps on the beach. They radioed over to nearby Fort Jefferson to send assistance.

A speedboat from the fort came and collected West, but by this point she was losing a dangerous amount of blood. They were forced to tie multiple tourniquets above her ankle to stop the bleeding, which West described as "like having chunks of flesh ripped from her leg."

"When I got to the shore I just started screaming 'I won, I won,' because I realized that I still had my foot," West said.

"In the water I was convinced he'd bitten it off, so seeing it still there, even though it was completely mangled, was a huge relief," she added. "The adrenaline was coursing through me and I actually felt so proud that I'd genuinely fought off a shark."

"Thankfully the two park rangers were there to call for help, because if they weren't we would have been completely on our own," she continued. "The boat trip to Fort Jefferson was the worst bit of the whole experience, because the tourniquets... were so excruciatingly painful."

When the group arrived, medical experts took one look at West's foot and knew she needed hospital treatment, SWNS reported. Thankfully, a small plane was about to leave the fort, and West was instructed to board the aircraft. She was flown an hour to nearby Key West, where surgeons assessed the damage to her foot.

Heather West
Heather West. Heather West/swns

At first they felt West needed to be flown to Miami for plastic surgery, but a specialist decided stitches would be enough. The damage to her tendons and ligaments has left her without full control of her right foot, but the doctor was able to save it from being amputated.

"They were minutes away from flying me to Miami for plastic surgery, but in the end the doctor just folded the skin back down and sewed up my foot," West said. "Now I have little control over my right foot and ankle because of ligament and tendon damage, but I've been told it could return over time."

"The whole experience was completely mental, and one that will stay with me forever," she added. "When I think back, I'm convinced that if I hadn't of had that bad feeling and turned my body to start swimming to shore, it would have taken a chunk out of my torso. In that instance I would most likely have lost too much blood and died on that beach."

Heather West
Heather West. Heather West/swns

But West — whose story has since gone viral on TikTok — doesn't hold any hard feelings against the creatures.

"Despite all of this, I want the record to show that I love sharks, and don't want to discourage people from getting in the water," she told SWNS. "As a matter of fact I'll be right back in as soon as I heal up!"

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