Local paramedic aids shark attack victim
Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2001
By By SHERRY DIGMON
Advance Staff Writer
Don Smith and Laura Roberts were relaxing on Pensacola Beach when a little boy came running up to them, screaming about a shark attack.
The youngster was yelling that they needed an ambulance, that there was a shark attack. Smith, a paramedic with Atmore Ambulance Service, quickly responded.
The date was July 6. The victim of the attack was 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast whose story has received national attention. He was at the beach with his aunt and uncle and other family members.
According to Smith, a woman who was on the scene that day appeared on NBC's Dateline recently taking credit for much of Jessie's emergency care and criticizing others who were on the scene. Smith and Roberts had remained silent about their role in the accident's aftermath until that woman criticized the people Smith calls "the real heroes."
It was only when Jessie's family and the bystanders were maligned on national television that Roberts submitted a letter to the editor of the Mobile newspaper, and it was only then that Smith would grant an interview to talk about the ordeal.
Out of respect for the family and their pain, Smith preferred not to talk about details of the accident, but he did give the following account.
When Smith got to the scene, Jessie was on the shore. His aunt was doing CPR on him. Smith helped with compressions until someone came with a cell phone. He stopped helping with CPR long enough to call BaptistFlight, the Baptist Hospital helicopter. Smith knew that a ground ambulance staff would have to carry the little boy a long way across the beach, and effective CPR is hard to do when the victim is being moved. Smith said he thinks the boy's uncle also called for the helicopter.
At some point, the uncle had wrestled the shark to shore. Jessie's arm was removed from the shark's mouth and reattached in an 11-hour surgery later that night. Some people thought the uncle got the shark so he could retrieve the arm. Smith said that was not true.
When BaptistFlight arrived, there was n oddly n a doctor on board.
But that was not the only unusual thing that happened during the ordeal. When the incident first happened and the little boy ran screaming up the beach, calling for help, he ran straight to Smith, a trained paramedic.
Smith and Roberts had been swimming nearby just 30 minutes before the attack.
Jessie was attacked by a seven-foot bull shark.
In talking about the accident, Smith minimizes his part in the rescue effort.
Smith has not tried to contact Jessie's family. At some point, he hopes to.