Shark attack leaves woman with mangled left hand; it ‘was gunning for me’


A 60-year-old Florida woman nearly lost her left hand on Oct. 23 after she was attacked by a shark near MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach.

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Susan Peteka, of Palm Beach Gardens, is a former emergency room nurse, and was on her daily swim around 8 a.m. when she felt a "swipe" and then realized that "blood and body tissue were flying out of me."

Peteka managed to reach the shore, but no one was on the beach. Bleeding profusely and becoming light-headed, Peteka’s cries alerted the resident of a beach-side condo. The man wrapped a towel above the wound and called 9-1-1.

“I just started screaming, ‘Help me, I’m going to die,’” Peteka said.

Peteka survived the encounter, but doctors have warned her recovery process will be extended. Included in the injuries to her left hand and wrist are 20 torn tendons and ligaments, a severed artery, two fractured bones and nerve damage. A piece of shark tooth was recovered embedded in Peteka's wrist.

“Her injuries are a life-changer,” said Dr. Thomas Saylor, an orthopedic hand surgeon at St. Mary’s Medical Center who treated Peteka.

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Peteka was one of two people bitten by sharks in the ocean off Palm Beach County on Oct. 23.

That afternoon, 17-year-old Jason Hartl was bitten in the foot by a shark while surfing near the Juno Beach pier and needed more than 50 stitches to close the wound.

Hartl speculated that a blacktip shark scavenging for bait near the pier sank its teeth into his foot. Peteka said she didn't have any idea what type of shark mangled her hand.

“This one was gunning for me,” Peteka said of the attack.

George Burgess, director emeritus for the University of Florida's Program for Shark Research, said two shark encounters in the same day and in the same area "is not unusual for this time of year."

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Burgess said that fish normally found in inland waters make their way out to the ocean late in the year to find warmer water and to spawn.

"Sharks aren't dummies," Burgess said. "They go where the food is."

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