DESTIN — A fun day out on the water quickly turned tragic for a 23-year-old tourist from Memphis, Tennessee, after her right arm was nearly severed in a boating accident near Crab Island.
Taj Bldiar was visiting the area with her best friend, Megan Rector. They rented a pontoon boat July 25 and were cruising just west of the sandbar with friends, Rector’s mother, Biggi Bowers said in a phone interview Wednesday.
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“They were doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. At that age people don’t think much about safety,” Bowers said. “They were sitting on the front of the pontoon while it was moving and I think they were just dangling their feet in the water.”
The fast-moving boat hit a large wave that tossed Bldiar into the water and sucked underneath. Everything happened so fast that Bowers said by the time her daughter could yell for them to turn off the engine, Bldiar was nearly 400 yards away.
“My daughter jumped into the water, swam to Taj and once she saw her arm, all she saw was bone, flesh, tendons and veins,” Bowers said. “She said all the cuts were butterflied like a steak. I’ll tell you, it was awful. They’re all traumatized.”
Friends wrapped up her arm with a towel. However, she had already suffered severe, irreversible damage.
10% chance of keeping her arm
Bowers said there were at least five cuts “going all the way to the bone” from her hand to her elbow. She had four fractures and several of her veins were severed.
Deputies with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit, which has a command post nearby, arrived within minutes of Bldiar being pulled from the water. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Bldiar was bleeding severely from her injuries.
“They were there just like that and they put a tourniquet on her, because I’m thinking she could have bled out right there," Bowers said. "Her main artery was severed in four places.”
Deputies helped with her treatment until Okaloosa County EMS arrived. Bldiar was then taken to an area hospital where she underwent two emergency surgeries. However, her recovery could take months — if not years — and she is still fighting to save her arm.
Bldiar was flown to another hospital in Georgia on July 27 to see a specialist who could operate on her severed artery. She has since had five more surgeries. Bowers said her doctors believe there is only about a 10% chance of Bldiar being able to keep her arm.
“She’s fighting, but it’s exhausting because the nerves don’t respond to the pain meds very much and all of her nerves, she said they’re on fire. The pain meds aren’t really fixing it,” Bowers said. “The flashbacks, the pain — she’s hardly getting any sleep.”
As of last week, Bldiar could only move and feel her index and middle finger. To try to save her arm, Bldiar will need at least 10 to 15 more surgeries.
Bowers said the 23-year-old has been grappling with the life-changing decision.
“She has good moments and she has bad moments,” Bowers said. “She has moments where when I talk to her she sounds pretty upbeat and 'I can do this.' Then she has moments where she’s just crying on the phone. Totally disappointed, and it’s been pretty rough.”
Bldiar ultimately decided she would be “willing to go through the pain” to save her arm, Bowers said. But without insurance, the procedures could cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars. The airlift from Florida to Georgia alone cost $35,000.
GoFundMe started; boating safety urged
Bowers said she hopes to ease some of Bldiar’s worries about the cost with a GoFundMe account she launched a day after the accident.
Her daughter has remained by Bldiar’s side for most of her recovery, and many other friends have rallied around her. As of Friday, 202 people had donated to the GoFundMe account, raising a total of $13,169.
Bowers said she is thankful for the support the page has received so far and hopes that the accident encourages others to practice safety while boating. The Sheriff's Office said people should not sit on the bow of a pontoon boat while it's underway.
“Practice safety while you’re on the boat,” Bowers said. “Taj was sitting in the middle and they basically ran over her. It happened so fast."
Traumatic injuries are common in Okaloosa County waters, and tourists make up about 10% of trauma patients at the HCA Fort Walton-Destin Hospital.
The hospital’s director of trauma, Melanie Sinclair, said in June that some of the most common injuries are from people hitting propellers or diving off boats into the shallow water near Crab Island.
Another woman was paralyzed after jumping feet first from a pontoon boat in Choctawhatchee Bay the same week as Bldiar’s accident.
To make a donation to Bldiar's GoFundMe account, visit https://gofund.me/2aca8097.
"I really appreciate everybody’s compassion and well-wishes and prayers," Bowers said. "We need every prayer. All of that is very much appreciated. Every penny. There’s no donation too small.”
This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Crab Island boat accident leaves woman's arm nearly severed