Growing up just blocks from the beach in Freeport, Texas, Aaron Perez's favorite activity is playing in the sand and surf.
This summer, 12-year-old Aaron will approach the water with a bit more caution. Last July, while he and his family were fishing just 50 yards from shore, Aaron was attacked by a shark.
But the resourceful boy remembered something he had seen on TV the night before, and successfully fought off the shark.
Thrown Around 'Like a Rag Doll'
Aaron first realized something was amiss when he noticed the fish were fleeing.
"I thought something weird was happening," he recalled.
Aaron he felt a bump from the shadowy water below.
"I turned to see what it was and it rose. The fin rose and then just clamped onto my leg and I started beating it and then when I did my arm slipped in its mouth," Aaron said. "He was shaking me trying to, like, take me into the water … bring me down or something."
The shark continued to attack, but Aaron fought back.
His father, who was nearby, was horrified watching the attack unfold. "I could see Aaron trying to punch the shark, and the shark was throwing him around like a rag doll from side to side," said Blas Perez.
Lesson from a Documentary
Luckily, Aaron had watched a documentary the night before that showed what to do if attacked by a shark.
As Aaron's mother, Thelma, recalled: "The man on the Discovery Channel said if you get attacked by a shark, you should hit them in the snout and the gills."
And that's exactly what Aaron did. "I started punching it and tried to make it go away," he said. "It seemed like forever but now that I think about it, it was only about a minute."
"I can remember him slamming that shark with his left hand, trying to get away from him," said a family friend, Don Townes, who was also fishing that day. "He was fighting him all the way. He wasn't going to let him take him, and that shark was big enough to take him where he wanted to go."
The shark retreated. At just 60 pounds, Aaron had fought off an 8-foot-long shark, and became a local hero.
'Don't Let Me Lose My Arm'
But Aaron had suffered terrible injuries: A huge bite on his leg, but even worse, his arm was ravaged by the shark, all but severed except for one piece of crushed bone hanging like a thread.
"On the X-rays you can see the teeth on the bone," said his dad.
Aaron was bleeding profusely, but Thelma said her son remained brave. She remembers that Aaron asked the man who initially helped him after the attack if he was going to live. "I could tell in his face he was scared but he wasn't crying," said his mom.
Instead, Aaron asked the adults around him to pray.
"He ducked his head and said, 'Dear Jesus, don't let me lose my arm,'" said Townes.
Thelma Perez feared for her only child. "You'd rather be in that pain than to see your child in that pain," she said.
Aaron was taken by air ambulance to Houston, and after a nightlong surgery, his arm was saved.
Almost Ready to Get Back in the Water
Since then, Aaron has endured months of therapy and surgeries, and has had to learn how to use his hand all over again. Through it all, he's kept his pluck, strength and smile. He even went back and visited all the people who helped save him.
A year later, Aaron plays the violin and piano and has joined the soccer team. He even says he's almost ready to get back into the water, and he says he doesn't want other people to be scared by his story.
"I don't think anybody should be afraid," Aaron said. "I'm not saying it won't happen again but I think the chances are low."
His parents say the experience has made their son stronger, and when the little things bother him, they still sometimes remind him of all he has been through.
"It's like, 'Aaron, you fought a shark, you know?' " Thelma said. "And you're telling me you can't do this? This is nothing. The shark was big. And right now, he's young and sometimes he forgets that."