Florida teen bitten by shark, rescued by brother, will have leg amputated

Published: July 4, 2022 12:45 PM EDT
Addison Bethea and Rhett Willingham in Bethea's hospital room. Credit: CBS Miami

Addison Bethea faces a long fight ahead after she was bitten by a shark off Keaton Beach on the state’s Gulf coast.

“I’ve always been told that something will happen just like that, that was definitely this situation,” the 17-year-old said from her hospital room days after the attack.

Bethea, who is from Perry, started last Thursday on the water just like many others ahead of Independence Day.

“We were scalloping for about two hours and we went to the last spot, obviously for only like 15 minutes, and we were going towards the boat and I felt like a tug,” she said.

The tug of a roughly nine-foot-long shark, coming seemingly out of nowhere.

“I tried to push it off of me and punch it in its nose, but it was at like a weird position where I couldn’t punch his nose good. Then it tried to drag me underwater because we were in like six feet of water,” said Bethea.

Her brother, Rhett Willingham, was nearly eight feet away from her when the shark attached itself to her thigh.

“I heard her almost yelp and I stood up to turn around and see what was going on because it sounded like something scared her and she was under the water and then she came back up and there was blood all around her and I saw the shark,” said Willingham.

Willingham, a firefighter, helped her fight it off. But then came the next battle, to save her life. He pulled his sister into another boat, applied a tourniquet to her leg to stem the blood loss, and rushed her back to land as fast as possible

After fighting off the shark, Willingham pulled his sister into another boat, applied a tourniquet to her leg to stem the blood loss, and rushed her back to land as fast as possible

Three days later, from Bethea’s room at Tallahassee Memorial, their mother, Michelle Murphy, called him a true hero.

“My daughter, by medical standards, should not be alive right now and I know that. It’s a miracle she survived this and I know if Rhett hadn’t been the one that was with her when it happened we may be in a very different scenario right now,” said Murphy.

The teen is scheduled to have her leg amputated above her knee on Tuesday.

Bethea’s story quickly spread across the country and she said that the support from people all over has helped her through this process.

“It’s just insane because I’ve seen other people go through things and need support and thought it’d ever be me. Now that I’m going through it, it’s just crazy,” she said.

But the most meaningful bond is at home with her older brother.

“We’ve always been close, like since forever, so this somehow brought us even more close. He’s always been by my side and I’ve always looked up to him,” said Bethea.

Despite the challenges ahead, her love of being out on the water remains.

“Don’t be scared of the ocean. I had so many people comment on my Instagram saying, ‘I’m so scared of the ocean now’. But I’m still going to get in the ocean when I heal and get better. I’m still going to do what I love, don’t just let fear overtake your life,” she said.