Shark attack survivor recalls digging her fingers into its eye to escape
"I felt it grab me and pull me down."
— -- A California woman who was attacked by a 10-foot great white shark earlier this year while surfing off the coast of San Diego spoke out about the harrowing experience for the first time in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America," saying she initially did not think it was real life.
"When I saw my leg on the board, that’s the image my mind gave me, was a cartoon," Leeanne Ericson told ABC News.
Dusty Phillips, Ericson's boyfriend who was in the water with her when she was bitten, told ABC News, "It wasn’t a test bite. It wasn’t a curious bite. This was an attack bite to kill."
Phillips said it was a "beautiful day" on April 29 when the two decided to go surfing together at San Onofre Beach, adding that the "sun was shining, dolphins were jumping out of the water."
Phillips told ABC News that Ericson was swimming with fins but hopped on his surfboard to take a rest while they were less than the length of a football field from the shore. Phillips said they suddenly felt something bump up against the board but spotted a seal off to their side, and assumed the seal had bumped them. Suddenly, Ericson was knocked off of the board and found herself directly in the path of a juvenile great white shark.
"I felt it grab me and pull me down," she said, describing how the shark pulled her towards the bottom of the ocean while she aggressively fought back.
Phillips said he knew something was wrong when he heard his girlfriend scream out from behind him.
Ericson said she fought back against the shark as she was being dragged down, punching it and striking the great white in the eye. "I felt like I was digging out a cup of Jell-O," she said of the sensation.
"My only concern was my breathing," Ericson recalled. "I couldn’t breathe."
Meanwhile, Phillips said he "immediately dove under the water in the murky conditions and I couldn’t even see."
The couple said ultimately they are not sure why the shark decided to let Ericson go.
"It could have been me hurting it," Ericson said. Phillips added, that "it might have had a big enough chunk of her flesh."
The shark bit her right thigh and backside down to the bone.
"I thought that was it for her," Phillips said. "She was a completely gray color that looked like she was already dead."
Somehow, the two were able to get to shore with the help of other surfers, where Ericson was induced into a medical coma in an ambulance and later taken by helicopter to a local hospital. After nine weeks in the intensive care unit and eight operations, Ericson is defying the odds.
Ericson said the incident has even brought her closer to Phillips, saying, "I mean, he saved my life."
The mother of three said that her health care bills following the shark bite are enormous, and even though she has insurance, she said it has still put her family in a deep financial hole.
"My antibiotics alone were like $36,000," Ericson said. Ericson's mother has set up a GoFundMe page to help with her medical bills.
Phillips told ABC News that since the harrowing incident, he is back in the water, surfing. Meanwhile, Phillips said there is still a long way to go before she is physically and mentally ready to surf again.