The shark that attacked Rick LePrevost struck so quickly and forcefully that he can barely remember what happened. "It felt like a big bump and a pull," said LePrevost, 31, who was attacked Friday morning while swimming in Tampa Bay.
"I thought it was a shark right away, but it wasn't confirmed until I was climbing up the boat ladder and saw the blood pouring out," LePrevost said during a news conference Saturday at Bayfront Medical Center.
LePrevost said he thinks the life preserver he was wearing may have saved his life by preventing him from being dragged completely under water.
"The initial hit that I took, it yanked me down," he said, grimacing from the pain in his mauled left leg. "I just came up, and my next thought was for my kids."
LePrevost and fellow St. Petersburg Fire Department paramedic Jake Nyhart, 26, took LePrevost's three children for a sail in the bay about 10:30 a.m. Friday. When the wind died down less than an hour later, the five jumped into the 20-foot-deep water about a mile east of The Pier in St. Petersburg.
The shark attacked during a game of "jump off the boat and swim to Daddy," LePrevost said.
Austin, 5, was near the back of Nyhart's 29-foot sailboat, ready to jump into the water after shimmying out along a rope tied to the stern. Lindsey, 6, was holding the rope, making her way toward the boat. Adam, 8, was hanging onto his father.
Suddenly, LePrevost felt a quick bump that he thought was a shark. He hurled Adam toward the boat and began screaming.
"I told Jake that something bit me," LePrevost said. "I didn't know how hard it was."
LePrevost remembers only being bitten once before climbing the metal boat ladder to safety. But tooth marks show that the shark, thought to be a 9-foot bull shark or lemon shark, attacked five times.
"I believe that he was hit five times up the leg, but I don't think he realized what happened," said Bayfront Medical Center surgeon Steven Epstein, who performed a two-hour surgery Friday on LePrevost.
Wounded slightly in the abdomen, LePrevost sustained the worst bites in his left thigh. Epstein said the shark tore 2 inches into LePrevost's front thigh muscle. LePrevost also has bites in his left ankle, calf and back thigh.
"He will have some very severe scars," Epstein said.
But LePrevost said he has plenty of reasons to be thankful. "What I'd first like to do is thank God I'm alive and that my kids weren't hurt," LePrevost said from a wheelchair, his left leg bandaged in thick gauze.
He said he was in pain but feeling lucky.
"As far as my leg is concerned, it hurts," he said, his clear, blue eyes narrowing a bit from the effort of speaking. "It feels like someone chewed on it."
His wife, Karen LePrevost, sat next to him and held his arm.
"I'm just glad he's alive and my children are safe," she said. "It doesn't seem real that he was attacked by a shark."
LePrevost should recover completely from the attack, Epstein said, and he probably will be allowed to leave the hospital today.
LePrevost said he doesn't plan to swim in deep water again.
"I've always been afraid of water that's over my head, where there might be critters in there."