By Liana Jacob
MEET THE WOMAN who has been fitted with a state-of-the-art ROBOTIC ARM after her real one was RIPPED OFF by a SHARK on holiday.
In June 2017, project manager, Tiffany Johnson (34) from North Carolina, USA, was on a cruise ship with her husband, James (32) on holiday when they decided to go snorkelling in the reef which was a five to ten minute boat ride from Paradise island.
They both enjoyed snorkelling together before he went back to the ship and just at that moment, Tiffany was faced with a shark she believed to be a Tiger shark that grabbed hold of her arm and ripped her arm off up to the elbow. She was left having to swim back to the ship while holding her amputated arm up above the water.
Once she got back to the boat, they used a towel as a tourniquet as they didn’t have any medical equipment on the boat. She was rushed to the nearest hospital where she underwent surgery that lasted five hours. This was followed by three more surgeries; an exploratory one, a nerve transfer in her arm and another to remove scar tissue to repair her elbow.
She had to adapt to a new life and has had many prosthetic, doctor and physical therapy appointments to rehabilitate her arm. Her new lifestyle was particularly difficult as she has three children; Kylee (8), Luke (7) and Natalie (4).
In November 2017 she had her first robotic hand fitted and says that it has given her a new lease of life where she could figure out a new normal in doing simple day-to-day tasks.
“My husband and I were on the MSC cruise with the last stop in Nassau, Bahamas. Upon disembarking the ship, we found a local vendor to take us parasailing and snorkelling,” Tiffany said.
“After snorkelling together for some time, my husband went back to the boat because he was feeling sick. It was just after he left that I was attacked by a shark and lost my right arm up to my elbow in the water.
“They, the Shark Attack Institute out of the University of Florida, believe it was either a Tiger or Caribbean Reef.
“I believe it was a Tiger shark after seeing pictures a few months later. The thing I remember distinctly is the eyes.
“I was able to swim back to the boat with my amputated arm elevated up above the water. Once I got to the boat, we used a beach towel as a tourniquet for my arm because there was no medical kit on the boat.
“We were on that boat from the reef to the stop at Paradise Island to the main port for about thirty minutes with no tourniquet and only a beach towel to stop the bleeding.
“Medically, it does not make sense why I am still alive. I didn’t even require a blood transfusion. It was an absolute miracle.
“It didn’t all hit me until I was back in the hospital in Charlotte; it had been a whirlwind up until that point trying to figure out a way back to the United States.
“When I really had time to digest it all, I cried a lot. Not really tears of depression, but rather overwhelming and pure thankfulness that I was alive.
“I had just lived through a near-death experience and there were so many miracles as to why I was still here.
“There were times when I felt like I was living a bad dream but then I would look down and realise, it wasn’t a dream – that I had to figure out my life as an amputee.
“I have not been swimming in the ocean since; I’ve been to the ocean several times, went on two cruises since, and even snorkelled in a man-made preserve with turtles just ten months after the attack.
“But I really haven’t had any desire to get back in the ocean; this is not because of fear, but rather I am using wisdom as I haven’t had any issues with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression and I don’t want to introduce anything just because I am trying to check something off my list.”
Following her surgeries, including having a robotic hand fitted, Tiffany had to learn how to use her arm all over again and admitted that this was very challenging being a mum of three children.
“I have had to figure out a new way to do things twice. Once one-handed before I was able to get the hand and then now with the use of the hand,” she said.
“Everything is different, it doesn’t function the same way as a hand does; it is more like a tool. It helps me, but I can’t expect it to be like my real hand. So that has been a journey of learning that I am still on even two and a half years out.
“This latest version is only a few months old; I can now bend my elbow and touch my head, bring my arm in closer to my body, etc. It functions ok, but it is a process.
“It is heavy and can be uncomfortable at times. But I am thankful to even be on this journey able to learn the process.
“I had to learn a new normal and that wasn’t easy; being a mum of three, very independent by nature, and used to doing it all.
“It took me a while to adjust to asking for help, learning how to do things again, and mentally being ok with it all. But through it all, my faith is what drove me forward.
“In the times where I felt desperate and so unsure, my faith kept my perspective focused on the things I could control.
“Ultimately, I have learned that you don’t always have a choice in the circumstance you are in, but you always have a choice in how you respond.
“I have actually been able to connect with some patients through my surgeons and prosthetic clinic.
They have asked me to talk with some patients that have had a hard time adjusting or who have had questions. It has been a blessing to be able to use this to help, encourage, and spread hope.
“I have been given the unique opportunity to share this very message of hope and overcoming through my newly launched ministry; Be An Overcomer Ministry.
“My goal is to use broken pieces of my tragedy to help give others hope and to give practical steps on how to overcome life’s adversities.”
For more information visit: https://www.instagram.com/banovercomer/