An elderly woman whose arm was torn off by an alligator could only say "gator" and call for her late husband, the neighbor who rescued her told ABCNews.com today.
It is unclear why Carol Hough, 84, was in the four-foot-deep canal behind her Leesburg, Fla., home on Wednesday morning when she encountered the 7-foot-5 male gator.
Hough's neighbor, Delmas Zickefoose, had woken up early that morning and was drinking a cup of coffee when he spotted Hough flailing in the canal behind his home. He threw down his coffee cup and ran outside to help when he noticed that one arm was missing from her shoulder.
Zickefoose jumped into the water to help Hough and said that she kept saying, "Gator."
"I grabbed her and held her above the water," Zickefoose said. "She was just about giving up. I held her to my chest and got her back over to shore."
He saw the gator swim away as he helped his neighbor.
Hough was alert and calm as Zickefoose, 68, held her but she kept asking for her late husband, Bob. She did not say anything about the attack or why she was in the water.
"I just said, 'Bob's fine and we have help coming on the way,'" he said. "I just told her I loved her and I was going to protect her. The gator was not going to get her."
Hough was wearing only a slip when Zickefoose found her. The rest of her clothes were left on her dock, leading him to believe Hough may have been trying to go for a swim, which people do not do in their canal.
Hough was flown to Orlando Regional Medical Center where she remains in critical condition but should recover.
Hough and Zickefoose did not know each other very well, but he was happy that he was there to save her.
"I'm just very, very thankful that I was there at the right time," Zickefoose said. "I didn't think twice about going in the water. I was not going to let that gator get her."
"I am so much looking forward to holding this little lady after she is recovered," Zickefoose said. "I felt like I was her guardian angel."
A deputy from the Lake County Sheriff's Department spotted the alligator at the scene, Lt. Joy Hill, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. A lieutenant from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrived and fired two shots at the gator, but it went underwater. The gator was trapped and killed several hours later and was taken for a necropsy.
Hough's arm was not found inside the alligator, but based on the size and behavior of the animal, authorities believe it is the one that attacked Hough. When a victim loses a limb to an alligator, it is common to kill them to try to retrieve it, Hill said.
Investigators are still trying to determine why Hough was in the canal. They found a hamburger patty in the gator's stomach, indicating it was not afraid of people in the area. They believe its' familiarity with humans was probably what caused it to approach Hough in the canal.
There are a few alligators in the canal where Hough was attacked, Zickefoose said, but he said many fill the waters at the end of the canal which runs into a lake. Alligator bites are less common than dog bites and lightning strikes, Hill said, but warned that if there is water, there is most likely gators.