Shark Victim's Aunt, Uncle Say Homecoming Is 'Bittersweet'

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The aunt and uncle of shark attack victim Jessie Arbogast described the 8-year-old's homecoming as "bittersweet."

The relatives expressed thanks to others who came to the aid of their nephew, whose arm was ripped off in a July 6 Florida shark attack.

Shark fears have been heightened by other attacks this summer. Two Americans were attacked this month in the Bahamas. One man's leg was amputated, and another man suffered a serious leg injury. And surfers were bitten by swarming sharks in Daytona Beach, Fla., last weekend.

The open letter from Diana and Vance Flosenzier of Mobile, Ala., was published in Tuesday editions of the Pensacola News Journal. It is the first time the couple, who have refused media interviews, have commented on the attack.

The uncle grabbed the tail of the 6-foot bull shark while it had Jessie's right arm in its mouth at Langdon Beach in the Fort Pickens area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola.

The Ocean Springs, Miss., boy was freed after the arm was bitten off. The limb was removed from the shark's gullet after the uncle wrestled the beast ashore and then reattached at Baptist Hospital.

Jessie, also bitten severely on the right thigh, was transferred to Pensacola's Sacred Heart Children's Hospital a couple of days later. He stayed there until Aug. 12, when he was sent home, still in a light coma caused by the extreme blood loss.

"It has been a bittersweet homecoming because, although we are very happy at the progress Jessie has made, we do not yet know how fully he will recover," the Flosenziers wrote. "Jessie is still not able to move very much or communicate, and he requires constant care."

Doctors said he likely suffered some brain damage, the extent of which may not be known for a year. They said his wounds were healing well but it also would take time to determine how much use he would have of his injured arm and leg.

"As our family moves ahead into the next phase of Jessie's recovery, we feel it is important to express our enduring gratitude to the many people who reached out to help," the Flosenziers wrote.

They thanked a man who caught Jessie when he was freed from the shark's jaws and another who helped them with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Neither man has been identified.

There were others who joined in the CPR effort, comforted five other children the couple also had taken to the beach, called 911 and handed Vance Flosenzier a cell phone so he could provide vital details of Jessie's injuries to a dispatcher.

They praised the calm and professionalism of National Park Service rangers, quick action by a BaptistFlight helicopter crew and the skill of medical personnel at the two hospitals.

Jessie'sparents, David and Claire Arbogast, have expressed similar thanks in prior written statements, although they, too, have declined interviews.

Financial and moral support has flowed in from around the world.

"We have received letters and visits from many supporters, some of whom are survivors of terrible accidents and illnesses themselves," the Flosenziers wrote. "Hundreds of people have donated blood. Thousands of people have prayed and continue to pray. ...

"We have learned firsthand from this experience that there are far, far more good people than bad in this world."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: Donations can be made to The Jessie Arbogast Medical Fund, account number 012428229, c/o Hancock Bank, P.O. Drawer 609, Ocean Springs, Miss. 39566.