By Rebecca Drew
THIS BRAVE young man describes how he felt something DISCONNECT from his body when a horrific great white shark bit off his LEG whilst surfing and then came back for more.
Student Caleb Swanepoel (23) from Cape Town, South Africa, was out body surfing at Buffalo Bay with his two brothers, Joshua and Alexander, in June 2015 when he noticed a great white shark was in the water with them. His sisters Rebekah and Robin were watching from the beach.
Caleb raised the alarm to his brothers and they started to swim towards the beach as fast as they could. All of a sudden Caleb felt the shark slam into him, ferociously biting his right leg and dragging him under the water. After a few moments Caleb felt something disconnect from his body – his leg.
Thinking he was moments from death, Caleb’s brothers, started to drag him towards the beach but the shark came back for more, biting Caleb’s left leg and one of his brother’s fin which brushed his foot. Miraculously, Caleb survived losing his right leg above the knee and with lacerations to his left knee.
Most above knee shark attack victims usually bleed out within 10 minutes, but Caleb’s femoral artery went into a spasm that prevented this from happening. After a hospital stay, Caleb worked hard in rehabilitation and went back to university to complete his theatre and performance degree.
Remarkably, Caleb took up surfing after his attack and has even competed in the World Adaptive Surfing Championships in California, USA and hopes to represent his country in para swimming one day.
It’s Caleb’s goal to show others that losing a leg isn’t the end of the world – he spoke about the day his life changed forever and the rehabilitation he’s gone through ever since.
“The weather was perfect for catching waves so my two brothers and I put our fins and wetsuits on and went out to do some ‘body surfing’. We were catching waves about 100 metres from the beach when I saw a great white shark ahead of me in the water,” she said.
“I turned to my brothers and shouted; “Shark! Swim!”. We started swimming as fast as we could towards the beach, but I had a horrible feeling in the back of my mind that something bad was going to happen. It was then that I felt something slam into of my body.
“The shark had bitten into me and was pulling me under the water. I hopelessly tried to hit the shark and push it off my leg. I felt something disconnect, there was no pain, I just felt something leave my body.
“I had a moment where I thought; “What now?” I did not think that I was going to survive. My brother turned back and started pulling me by my wetsuit towards the beach. That is when the shark came back and circled us, it bit into my left leg. My brother tried to scare the shark off and it bit into his fin barely missing his foot.
“It is a miracle that I am alive today. I lost my right leg above the knee and received a laceration to me left knee. Above knee shark attack survivors usually bleed out within 10 minutes of an attack. In my case, my femoral artery went into spasm, preventing a bleed out.
“The recovery process was a challenge in the beginning. When I was in hospital, even sitting up in the bed proved difficult in the beginning. I remember being anxious to get moving and to start using crutches; I worked with an incredible physiotherapist named Mellissa who got me using the walker and eventually crutches.
“Being able to get around again by myself was a great feeling for me. After hospital I remember visiting a prosthetist in Cape Town called Jayson Chin and Associates and it was here that I started my process towards getting my leg ready for a prosthetic leg. I started to wear ‘coning socks’ which shape your leg for socket, that part which is attached to a prosthetic leg.
“While I was doing this and my rehab I attended university as usual with my class and just had to find ways to adapt to the classes, working with crutches for most of the day. It was tiring work as my body was adjusting and adapting but I am glad that I continued with my studies so quickly. It gave me a purpose each day and a goal to work towards.
“I didn’t have time to really think too much about how I was feeling. You also use a lot of energy moving around on crutches every day so after a long day at uni I was finished.”
Thanks to the support of his family and hospital staff, Caleb’s confidence in his new prosthetic leg grew over time.
After his accident, Caleb decided to take up surfing and has enjoyed representing his country in his sport.
“It was a very strange process. Initially I was so attached to my crutches that I didn’t want to wear the leg all day. My leg would be in pain and walking was uncomfortable at first, but as I started to adjust it was a great feeling being on two ‘feet’ again,” he said.
“I had to learn and am still learning to this day to trust my prosthetic leg by putting weight on it and using it for balance doing so means that I am more confident on my leg and I walk far better.
“In actual fact I was not a surfer before I lost my leg. I only started surfing after I lost my leg. I joined a few friends from my local gym on a team-building day and I tried to stand up on a SUP board.
“It was very challenging but an awesome experience standing up on a board. Since then I have continued to have fun and challenge myself with surfing. I have competed for my country for two years in a row at the World Adaptive Surfing Championships in California.
“I have a surfing leg and 7ft board that I use. It is an awesome sport and it is lots of fun, sometimes a bit scary too when the waves get a bit too big for my liking.”
Caleb dreams of moving to the UK to study his masters and even work at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre one day.
For now though, he hopes to be an inspiration to other people who have lost a limb and shares his story on Instagram.
“I do want people to know that just losing a leg is not the end of the world. I hope to connect with people and help them in whatever way I can as well as gain inspiration from them. I think it always works both ways. Connecting with people is a special thing,” he said.
“I think it is important to take note and value the things you have; a breathing working body for example. I think we only realise how much value something has after it is gone.
“Take things one day at a time and reward yourself for the small challenges each day whatever they may be: It is important.
“My mother taught us a saying at school that I still remember of today. It is IADOY-It All Depends On You.
“No matter how much support you have, at the end of the day you have to be the one who takes the baton and finishes the race.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/calebswanepoel