'She is a trooper': Doctors forced to amputate Florida girl's leg after shark attack, hospital says

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Addison Bethea has always been an athletic girl.

She was a cheerleader and tennis player at her Florida high school and loved to swim.

But, after she was attacked by a nine foot shark last week while scalloping off the coast of Keaton Beach, surgeons at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare have no option but to amputate her right leg.

“Addison got a little emotional today when we told her about the amputation,” her mother, Michelle Murphy, said in a statement. “but she has accepted it, and she knows this is her best path forward."

Surgeons will amputate the leg just above the knee and take muscular tissue and skin from the lower leg to wrap around Addison’s femur, reconstructing the upper leg and giving her the ability to use a prosthesis for her lower leg, according to a press release by Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

Rhett Willingham, left, and Addison Bethea, right, pose for a photo days after she was attacked by a shark near Keaton Beach in Taylor County.
Rhett Willingham, left, and Addison Bethea, right, pose for a photo days after she was attacked by a shark near Keaton Beach in Taylor County.

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The attack happened Thursday afternoon in water approximately 5 feet deep, according to the Taylor County Sheriff's Office.

Bethea punched the shark and poked it in the eye, but it did not loosen its grip on her leg.

Her brother, Rhett Willingham, a first responder and firefighter, fought off the shark and pulled his sister onto a stranger's boat.

When they reached the shore, she was airlifted to TMH.

Addison Bethea, center, poses for a photo with her parents, Michelle Murphy, left, and Shane Bethea, right.
Addison Bethea, center, poses for a photo with her parents, Michelle Murphy, left, and Shane Bethea, right.

"She suffered devastating injury to her upper right leg, including the loss of her quadriceps, the four muscles in the front of the thigh that work together to keep the kneecap stable and allow for lower leg extension," read a statement by TMH. "The bite also caused massive nerve and vascular damage."

Bethea's amputation, originally scheduled for Tuesday before it was postponed for later in the week, will be her third surgery since arriving at TMH.

"She is a trooper but she has an extremely long road mentally and physically ahead of her," her father, Shane Bethea, wrote on Facebook Saturday. "Keep us in your prayers as well because this is our baby girl."

Contact Christopher Cann at ccann@tallahassee.com and follow @ChrisCannFL on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida shark attack: Teen cheerleader, athlete faces leg amputation