Shark Survivor Lydia Strunk, 'I Saw My Leg Was Shredded'

Lydia Strunk describes moment her Puerto Rican kayak trip turned "terrifying"

September 4, 2011, 11:06 PM

Sept. 5, 2011 — -- If Lydia Strunk needs any reminder of just how lucky she is to have survived a shark attack off the coast of Puerto Rico last week, all she has to do is look down at the cast on her right leg.

"You are truly one-in-a-million," reads an inscription on the cast, left by one of Strunk's friends.

"But I like to correct that -- that is one in 11 million," Strunk said today on "Good Morning America." "Because those are the odds."

The tale of survival against the odds for Strunk began late last Tuesday when the 27-year-old was kayaking with a group of 16 fellow U.S. tourists in the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay in Vieques, a tiny island just east of Puerto Rico.

Eager to see glow-in-the-dark fish, she jumped into the water with four other people, when something hit the leg of the person next to her.

"I jumped out and swam for about 10 minutes," Strunk said, speaking out publicly for the first time since her attack. "It was amazing."

"Then the person next to me asked, 'Did you feel that?'" she recalled. "Then, moments later, I felt a strong impact against my right leg and it pulled me into the water. Then I felt the shark swim across my left leg and then swim away."

"It was certainly a moment that changed from enjoyable to terrifying very quickly," she said.

Shrunk, a law student at the University of California in San Diego, had been bitten by a 6-foot tiger shark.

"I just felt strong pressure, but I just instinctually lifted up my leg and saw that my leg was shredded," she said.

"I got back in my kayak and I was more so in a state of frightened disbelief, saying 'Oh my god, oh my god,'" she recalled. "Then the adrenaline kicked in."

The harrowing journey for Strunk was just beginning as she faced the prospect of being transported from her group's remote location in the middle of the bay to an emergency facility where she could be treated.

"The tour guide tied my leg in a tourniquet," she said of those first few moments after the attack. "Then we had to kayak back into shore and then, from there, we embarked on a 10-15 minute bumpy ride on these dark island roads and then we reached the emergency room."

Strunk was airlifted to the Rio Piedras Medical Center on the mainland that night, where the 10-inch wound from below her knee to her ankle left by the shark was treated by doctors.

"Once I reached the emergency room I immediately felt relief," Strunk said. "Immediately I felt like it could have been a lot worse. Once the tour guide and everybody moved into action I felt like got impeccable emergency response, so I immediately felt fortunate."

Doctors repaired four tendons in Strunk's right leg that are used for flexing the foot. She is expected to make a full recovery but will likely have some nerve damage and limited movement in her right foot.

"It was like (the shark) tried to tear away," Dr. Pablo Rodriquez, part of the medical team who treated Strunk, told the Associated Press. "She has an imprint of all the shark's teeth."

Shark Attacks On the Rise

Strunk's attack is just the latest in a string of shark attacks this summer.

Forty-six people reportedly have been attacked – nine of them fatally – by sharks since May.

In July, a 5-foot tiger shark nearly severed 6-yaer-old Lucy Mangum's right leg, attacking her in the shallow waters off the North Carolina coast as she rode a boogie board with her family.

And over the weekend an onlooker photographing surfers riding massive waves in Southern California spotted a dorsal fin just beneath the waves that surfers were riding. Experts say the fin was consistent with a 10 to 12 foot great white shark. The images are chilling.

"We have a lot of sightings of white sharks in the area, so it's sort of like the perfect storm of … danger," one surfer said.

Over the weekend in Australia, a great white shark fatally bit a surfer at the waist, apparently tearing him in two.

Another Australian man was mauled to death by tiger sharks last month, and a groom on honeymoon in the Seychelles also died after being bitten.

Shark attacks are rare in Puerto Rico. Only seven attacks have ever been reported, two of them fatal, with the last death occurring in 1924, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The murky areas of the Mosquito Bay area where Strunk and her tourist group were kayaking, however, act as a nursery for several species of sharks, including tiger, nurse, reef and hammerheads.

People are prohibited from swimming in the bay's waters to protect the ecosystem, but it is not uncommon for kayak operators to let visitors, like Strunk, swim in the area.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources are investigating what company, if any, organized Strunk's trip.

That company could face a penalty of up to $5,000 or lose its license, Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Ana Maria Ramos told the Associated Press.

Strunk says that despite the long road of healing ahead, she is confident she'll be back in the waters again soon.

"It'll take about a year to get full feeling back with the nerve being severed," she told "GMA." "But I feel tremendous, and have great strides daily."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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