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Boy attacked by shark taken off critical list

The 8-year-old boy whose arm was bitten off by a shark improved from critical to serious condition Friday, although doctors said he remained "acutely ill" and in a light coma.

"Jessie has made a number of slight improvements throughout the week that indicate that, while he is still acutely ill, he is no longer in any immediate danger of death," said Rob Patterson, a pediatric intensive care specialist at Sacred Heart Children's Hospital. "Jessie is beginning to respond to external stimulation like changes in noise and light," he said in a daily Web site posting. He also said the boy continued to receive dialysis to help repair kidneys damaged by blood loss from the July 6 attack.

As Jessie makes slow progress from the attack and the long operation that reattached his right arm, retrieved from the gullet of the shark after Jessie's uncle dragged the 6{-foot animal ashore, gifts and well-wishes keep pouring in to the hospital.

As of noon Friday, he and his Ocean Springs, Miss., family had received more than 1,000 e-mails and more than 3,000 pieces of mail, including gifts of food, toys, flowers and money, hospital officials said.

A Canadian shark attack victim shared her thoughts, and an 88-year-old World War II veteran in Mississippi offered to come down to donate blood.

"If I can help the lad, I'd be glad to," said Scott West, who has offered to drive nearly 150 miles from his home in Waynesboro, Miss., to donate a pint of his O-negative blood.

The Pensacola area's supply of O-negative, a rare type but the only one that can be used in place of all others, was depleted following efforts to resuscitate Jessie who lost nearly all his blood. The Northwest Florida Blood Center has been slowly replenishing its stocks of O-negative and other types through special blood drives in the Florida Panhandle and Jessie's hometown and nearby Biloxi, Miss.

When West, a retired Navy master chief petty officer, was told that having his blood shipped from Mississippi would be too expensive, he told Sacred Heart officials he would come to Pensacola.

Soile Hamalainen of Pickering, Ontario, sent an e-mail saying that she remembers Jessie daily in her thoughts and prayers. "When I first heard of Jessie's accident, I was horrified mainly because I was also attacked by a shark last January," she wrote.

"This happened in Cuba. We are not sure what shark attacked me but it could also have been a bull shark."

She added that her left arm was badly mangled, although not bitten off, and she also lost a large amount of blood.

"In my case, it is a miracle that I am alive and I thank God for it," Hamalainen wrote. "I understand that it also (is) a miracle that Jessie is alive."

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