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Florida dad who nearly lost arm to a massive alligator shares harrowing story

Carsten Kieffer was gator hunting when a 12-foot alligator latched onto his arm and wouldn't let go.
Florida dad Carsten Kieffer was on an alligator hunting trip in August 2020 when a gator propelled itself onto the boat and attacked.
Florida dad Carsten Kieffer was on an alligator hunting trip in August 2020 when a gator propelled itself onto the boat and attacked.Courtesy Carsten Kieffer
/ Source: TODAY

A Florida man is grateful he can play catch with his kids again after doctors re-attached his arm following an alligator attack.

Carsten Kieffer was on an alligator hunting trip with friends at Lake Jesup, a lake in Seminole County, Florida, in August 2020 when he hooked a gator he describes as being "over 12 feet" in size.

"So now I'm standing there in the boat with a 12-foot alligator attached to my arm, which was a little bit scary."

"That lake is known to have massive gators — absolutely monstrous," Kieffer, who had already caught an 11-foot gator earlier in the day, told TODAY Parents. "This guy was in a really shallow canal that was only like two feet deep. We got the hook in him, got up closer to him with the boat, got the harpoons into him and then the next thing you're supposed to do is take your bang stick and dispatch the animal."

Kieffer was holding the harpoon lines steady while his friend prepared the bang stick, a specialized firearm used underwater to kill an alligator, when the alligator launched itself from the canal and propelled itself halfway into the boat.

"When he did that, he snapped down on my arm," Kieffer recalled. "So now I'm standing there in the boat with a 12-foot alligator attached to my arm, which was a little bit scary."

Carsten Kieffer says he pushed himself through hundreds of hours of physical therapy to regain use of his arm and hand.Carsten Kieffer

"Initially I said, 'He got me,'" said Kieffer. "My buddy had his back to me and thought he just snapped at me, but when he turned around and saw the alligator was halfway in the boat and holding my arm, he tried to put a metal rod into the mouth of the alligator to pry the mouth open."

Then the alligator turned its head and lifted Kieffer into the air.

"That's when I heard my skin rip and I heard the bones crush," said Kieffer. "At that point, luckily, he let go for some reason. He just decided he wanted to get back in the water."

After his friends called 911, Kieffer was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where Dr. Karan Desai performed the first of eight surgeries to save Keiffer's arm.

According to Dr. Desai, both bones in Kieffer's arm were broken and in addition to plates and screws to hold them in place, bone had to be taken from Keiffer's hip to help his radius heal.Carsten Kieffer

"It was a severe injury with both of the bones in his forearm broken into multiple pieces," said Desai, a hand and upper extremity surgeon. "He had extensive muscle injury as well, with a lot of the muscle actually being ripped out by the gator’s mouth."

Keiffer needed surgeries and grafts to replace bones, muscle and skin lost in the attack. Desai says infection was a major concern.

"A gator, who lives in a nasty swamp — there are a slew of dangerous bacteria that can be present in their mouth," said Desai. "I believe the last few gator bites I've heard of have led to amputations because of infection. That was one of my greatest things off the bat to try to overcome."

Today, after extensive physical therapy and multiple surgeries, Kieffer is fully back to work, something he calls a miracle.

Carsten Kieffer with his wife and two children, who have made him promise never to go alligator hunting again.Carsten Kieffer

"I went to the hospital that night thinking I'd wake up without an arm," said Kieffer. "When I woke up and saw my arm, that sparked a fire in me to get back to being able to dance with my daughter and carry my children to bed — now I can hold my daughter’s hand walking down the road and not have any issues with it."

Kieffer says his wife, Maja, and kids Aksel, 11, and Lily, 6, have made him promise never to go alligator hunting again, something he says is fine with him.

But what happened to the alligator who almost bit off Kieffer's arm?

Carsten Kieffer at the central Florida lake where an alligator attack nearly cost him his life.Orlando Health

"After we left the lake, the Florida Wildlife Commission sent out a trapper for a week and he never found it," said Kieffer, explaining that the gator may still be swimming in Lake Jesup, or may have gotten tangled underwater in the ropes from the harpoons and drowned. "I have a lot of buddies that are going out hunting that lake this year and they all said they're going to keep an eye out for him and look for him."

"I know it was a fluke thing," Kieffer added. "This was a wild animal and things happen and unfortunately they just happened to me this time. I'm not mad at the alligator... gators are a part of life in Florida, so you've got to just get over your fear and get on with life."

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