A Florida hunter has recalled the moment a large alligator leapt out of the water and almost claimed his arm, in what he thinks was an attempt to defend itself.
And a doctor has told of how surgeons had to act quickly in order to save his injured extremity.
Carsten Kieffer, a firefighter, was hunting alligators with friends at Lake Jesup in Florida in August 2020 when the incident occurred.
Spotting one, Kieffer and his companions managed to hook onto an alligator in order to catch it.
However, the father-of-two said the animal managed to “launch off the bottom of the creek” and into the boat he was using.
Kieffer told Newsweek: “I think he was just trying to defend himself. We had wounded him, and it was just his reflex.”© Carsten Kieffer Carsten Kieffer, seen in hospital, was treated quickly by doctors who rushed to save his arm. Carsten Kieffer© Carsten Kieffer Carsten Kieffer seen with his family. Carsten Kieffer
The alligator got its teeth caught on the boat’s railing, meaning the animal was not able to pull itself entirely out of the water. However, it managed to keep its hold on Kieffer’s arm.
He said: “At that point, everything kind of happened fast, and we heard the skin rip and then the bones crush.”
The firefighter said one of his friends managed to get a hold of him and stuck a metal rod in the alligator’s mouth in an attempt to pry it off of Kieffer’s arm. Then, once Kieffer’s arm had gone limp, the alligator let go.
Kieffer said his mind quickly went to his career, as well as his future with his children aged 11 and 6. “The biggest thing I was thinking about was just praying the alligator would let go without doing too much damage, and then I realized that my life as I knew it was probably over.
“Everyday I wake up and I’m excited about going to work. I’ve been doing this for 11 years now and that was my biggest thing, thinking: ‘What am I going to do now?’
“Then all the little things that you’re supposed to do with your kids, now all of a sudden there are things you can’t do one-handed.”
Kieffer was rushed to the Level One Trauma Center at the Orlando Regional Medical Center by ambulance, where doctors quickly got to work on recovering his arm.
He stayed there for 11 days, during which time surgeons implanted two plates and 17 screws in the badly damaged arm.
They also replaced missing parts by taking bone marrow from his hip, a skin graft from his leg, and transferring muscle from one part of his arm to another. What followed was thousands of hours of rehab.
“The fact that I woke up with my arm was just mind-boggling to me after seeing the injury,” Kieffer said.
Dr. Karan Desai is a hand and upper extremity surgeon at Orlando Health who worked to save Kieffer’s arm following the injury.
Desai had treated what he called “mangled extremities” before, but it was the first alligator bite he had ever dealt with. He said the bite added an additional risk of infection.
Time was also of the essence, since doctors did not know if Kieffer’s arm had blood flowing to it. Without blood, muscle tissue dies quickly.
Desai told Newsweek: “This is an emergency that required immediate care, because it is an open fracture with essentially the bone sticking out.
“Trained peripheral nerve surgeons like myself are used to having very severe injuries coming in, day in and day out. The experience you find at a Level One Trauma Center itself is very important for the treatment of these patients.”
Kieffer’s arm was recovered, and the firefighter has even been able to get back to work on full duty. Desai said he was “so happy” about his patient’s recovery.
Speaking about whether he views alligators differently following the attack, Kieffer said: “You’d think I would be scared of them, but I really am not. It was a freak accident. All he was trying to do was defend himself.”