A Florida firefighter who was attacked by an alligator while swimming in a lake says his survival is a ‘miracle ‘ as he fought off the reptile despite being significantly wounded.
JC La Verde was swimming in Lake Thonotosassa – outside of Tampa – on August 3 in preparation for a race when he was attacked by an alligator.
Horrific drone footage caught the moments before La Verde was attacked by the 12-foot reptile heading straight towards the swimmer in the green pigmented lake.
The two collided, and the brawl begins as the swimmer, who used to be a member of the United States Air Force Pararescue team, go into fight mode.
‘With the right stroke, all I felt was scales, teeth,’ La Verde told ABC Action News while emotionally recalling the traumatic attack. ‘What I think I did – what I felt like I did – was that I immediately tried to open its jaws.’
‘When I felt the teeth, I immediately knew then. As I opened it, I know that it either I turned it or it turned me, but it was confused just as I was confused – and then it just let go.’
La Verde was able to make a swift escape and swim to land to contact the Hillsborough County Police Department for help. A bystander nearby drove him to the hospital.
The firefighter suffered injuries to his head and face – including a puncture to his brain – that was treated as immediately underwent a six-hour surgery to ‘repair and reconstruct the damage to his skull and jaw.’
La Verde doesn’t have bones on the right side of his head and his jaw will remain nearly shut for the next few weeks. He was discharged from the hospital on August 12, but will have to undergo another surgery in the future.
‘If you want to see this in any other way than a legit miracle, it’s silly of you,’ La Verde told ABC Action News.
‘That thing was huge. It wasn’t a little gator. It would be funny if it was a little gator.’
The footage was captured by La Verde’s friend – who was filming a promotional video for the swimmer’s company Defeat X. La Verde sets up and participates in multiple outdoor races, including triathlons.
The video was anticipated to be a promotional video until tragedy struck. Now, Defeat X is using the footage to spread La Verde’s story.
‘When I woke up that day, all I could think about was promoting our adventure race. I wanted to make the video, I wanted to get the word out, I had a plan, a plan that was interrupted by 12’ of prehistoric fury,’ La Verde said in the caption of the video Defeat X posted online.
‘And I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but when that gator had me in its mouth, when it was interrupting my plan for the day, in the back of my mind I was annoyed. Because it was getting in the way of what I was there to do. That’s how hard I go after the things that I believe in.’
He continued, ‘But, then she let me go, and I swam. Harder than I’ve ever swum before, but in a new direction, because the plan had changed. Sometimes in life, our plans change. And when they do, we just have to swim harder than we’ve ever swum before.’
La Verde was released from the hospital on August 12 only to be readmitted a few days later when he hit his head and experienced a ‘syncopal episode.’
‘Hi, I get to leave the hospital today, and I’m pretty excited,’ La Verde said in a video uploaded by his wife Christine.
‘I think I already made a video thanking everyone for their thoughts and prayers, so in case I didn’t because I forgot – thank you – from the bottom of my heart. I love you all.’
He continued, ‘Defeat X and be the best version of yourself at all times. Love you all. Bye.’
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help assist La Verne and his wife following the devastating attack. More than $50,000 has been raised out of a goal of $80,000.
Alligators have been on the hunt this month with an elderly woman in South Carolina being killed by one in the gated community where she lived.
Nancy Becker, 88, was spotted near an alligator that looked like it was ‘standing guard’ at 11.15am on August 15 in Sun City Hilton Head, a gated adult community city just north of Savannah in South Carolina.
The death is the fourth confirmed fatal alligator attack in the United States this year and second one in South Carolina.
Authorities said that the Sun City resident had been doing a spot of gardening near the pond on Monday morning when she slipped into the water. She was unable to get out in time before the alligator struck.
The alligator, identified as a 9-foot 8-inch male, was eventually captured from the pond on Monday afternoon and killed.
Watch the footage below: