SHELL ROCK — A middle-school boy is recovering after he was bitten by a shark off the Atlantic coast of Florida last week.
Kael Dewey, 11, of Shell Rock was playing on a boogie board about 15 feet from the shore at Stuart Beach, Florida, on Tuesday when he screamed out that he had been bitten, according to his mother, Jessica Dewey, who spoke to The Courier by phone on the family’s drive home from the state.
“I was probably 15 feet away from him screaming, ‘Get to shore, get to shore,’” Jessica Dewey said. “My biggest fear was it would attack him again and pull him under.”
At first, Jessica Dewey thought perhaps her youngest son was just stung by a jellyfish.
“When I saw the blood, I knew it was far worse,” she said.
She said Kael, a fifth-grader at Waverly-Shell Rock Middle School, told her he knew to get out of the water quickly because he had watched television shows about shark attacks.
Once on land, their screams summoned passersby, who wrapped Kael’s right foot in towels. Beach patrol administered aid before paramedics arrived to take Kael to a local hospital.
Jessica Dewey said hospital personnel told the family the bite marks were consistent with the bite of a spinner shark, a shallow-feeding shark which can grow up to 9 feet in length.
“I didn’t even count the number of teeth marks,” she said. “The whole front of his foot and the back side of the foot was pretty mangled.”
Kael managed to keep his foot and all of his toes, just needing some stitches — and a heavy dose of antibiotics to ward off marine bacteria.
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The attack, which came just days into the family’s vacation, put a damper on things, Jessica Dewey said.
“Our vacation was pretty much spent in the hospital, and then a follow-up appointment with a podiatrist,” she said.
Kael couldn’t put weight on his foot or go to the beach or pool because of the wound.
But there was an upside: A planned day at a St. Louis Cardinals spring-training game in nearby Jupiter, Florida, turned into an honorary bat-boy opportunity and a meet-and-greet with some high-profile Cardinals players who heard about Kael’s attack.
“He got to meet the players, got their autographs. That really brightened up the trip for him,” Jessica Dewey said. “In the ambulance, the only thing that calmed him down was talking about his favorite player (Yadier Molina). Then he got to meet him!”
She said she’s not sure if the family would have done anything differently to prevent the attack, noting she researched shark attacks and found they’re rare, and there weren’t any warnings at the beach that day.
“I looked it up, and there’s a one in a million chance you’ll get bitten by a shark,” Dewey said. “It’s just crazy that he was one in a million.”
The U.S. leads the world in shark attacks, with 32 attacks last year, according to the International Shark Attack File. And Florida has the highest number of shark attacks, with 16 — or half of the U.S. total — in 2018. Those people participating in surfing or board sports accounted for over half of bites.
Tips on preventing shark attacks can be found at https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/reduce-risk/swimmers/