They say you’re more likely to hit the Megaball in a lottery than get attacked by a shark, but that’s little comfort to Nicholas Vossler: the 12-year-old Texas boy nearly had his left foot ripped off by a bloodthirsty bull shark.
In an exclusive interview on TODAY Friday, Nicholas told NBC’s Thanh Truong he was with his family on vacation near Port Arthur, Texas, on July 7 when his frolic turned into a scene of horror straight out of “Jaws.”
“We were swimming in the surf, you know, just having a good time,” Nicholas told TODAY. “I was waist-deep in water, and a shark came up and bit my foot.”
Mark Constien, a friend whose family was vacationing with the Vosslers, was near Nicholas at the time of the attack and saw the boy injured and bleeding in the 3½-foot-deep water over a sandbar. Nicholas’s dad, Cecil Vossler, was shocked at what he saw next.
“I turned around and Mark was holding Nicholas in his arms and carrying him towards me,” Vossler said. “I saw his mangled foot and a lot of blood. I know God was with us, because we thought clearly; after the first shock, you know, you snap out of that and start thinking clearly.”
‘Mom, you need to start praying’
Think clearly they did — and they likely saved Nicholas’s mangled foot in the process. Nicholas’s mom, Alisha, flagged down a speedy boat to get Nicholas back to shore, while Cecil took off his shirt and wrapped it around Nicholas’s foot to staunch the bleeding.
Still, Nicholas knew he was in trouble. Alisha Vossler told NBC, “When I put his head in my lap, he said, ‘Mom, you need to start praying.’ ”
A helicopter picked up Nicholas at a nearby dock and whisked him off to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston where, after four touch-and-go surgeries, Nicholas is expected to recover with his foot intact.
“The prognosis is good; I think he’s going to come back and have a functional foot,” the hospital’s Dr. Charles Cox told NBC.
Nicholas is only the third recorded shark attack victim in 100 years near Matagorda Island, where he was swimming. But it may surprise unwitting swimmers that sharks are often lurk right near them. Tom Harvey, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told the Fort Worth Star Telegram that the bull sharks enjoy the warm coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico and get near swimmers without them being any the wiser.
“It may be cold comfort to some people, but they just don’t attack people very often at all,” Harvey said.
But if there’s a shark who’s a prime candidate for attacking, it’s the bull shark. They are known for being particularly aggressive, and since they are comfortable in shallow water and can even tolerate fresh water, they are responsible for the bulk of near-shore shark attacks around the U.S.
For his part, Nicholas is keeping an upbeat attitude despite his brush with mortal danger. And when he recovers, he’s got a heck of a fish story to tell his buddies.
“Yo, dude, I got bit by a shark,” he deadpanned.
Nicholas is even poking a little fun at his near-miss through a blog called nicholasbitesback.com, which updates his recovery. And he maintains a love for aquatic life.
“I want to own an aquarium store,” Nicholas told NBC News. “I really do love fish, and I do like having pet fish tanks and stuff.”