Charles “CJ” Wickersham knows that in moments of crisis, heroes don’t think, they act.
It’s a lesson he learned firsthand after seeing the heroic, life-saving actions taken by six of his friends at the very moment a shark tore at his leg.
Wickersham, 21, of Longboat Key, Fla., was spearfishing with friends in the Gulf of Mexico off Anna Maria Island on Saturday afternoon when a nine-foot bull shark bit him in the left thigh.
“All of a sudden he started screaming and we knew it wasn’t good,” Connor Bystrom, who was in the boat with Wickersham, told “ Good Morning America.” “Within seconds there was just a pool of blood around him.”
The shark bit Wickersham’s leg so hard that his thigh bone was exposed beneath a 15-inch gash.
“I jumped in the water and swam over to him,” Bystrom recalled. “Right when I hit the water I could see the extent of his injury. It was very bad.”
Three more of Wickersham’s friends jumped into the water to help Bystrom get the stricken man back on the boat. The danger they found themselves in increased even more as a pool of blood that surrounded Wickersham grew each second, raising the risk of attracting even more sharks.
Finally able to pull Wickersham back onto the boat, Bystrom took the wheel of the boat and rushed him to the Rod and Reel Pier in Anna Maria, while their other friends tied a rope atop Wickersham’s thigh to stop the bleeding, and alerted authorities.
Paramedics waiting at the Pier rushed Wickersham to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, where he underwent surgery Monday afternoon.
“He never passed out,” Bystrom said of his friend’s own heroic efforts to stay alive despite the substantial amount of blood he was losing from the bite. “He kept conscious the whole time, but it was a bloody, bloody mess.”
Wickersham’s injuries, while not considered life threatening, were severe enough to require 700 to 800 sutures to close the gaping wound left by the shark. He is expected to remain in the hospital for at least another seven days.