OAK ISLAND, N.C. » Paramedics Peter Joyce and Jack Baker had been back at the station for only a few minutes after treating their first-ever shark attack victim when the radio crackled: A second person had just been attacked.
They ran inside to grab a few tourniquets — they had used all theirs on the first victim — and then drove through a sudden downpour. They found a 16-year-old lying on a narrow band of sand, the high tide washing over him. Another teenager had used a belt as a tourniquet to try to stem the bleeding from his arm.
"He was in as critical shape as you could be," Joyce said Tuesday. The makeshift tourniquet probably saved his life, Baker said.
Baker and Joyce, along with EMT Jerry Ikalowych, responded to two separate shark attacks within about 90 minutes at Oak Island on Sunday.
In the first attack, a 12-year-old Asheboro girl, Kiersten Yow, lost her left arm below the elbow and suffered a leg injury.
Yow was in stable condition Tuesday at N.C. Children’s Hospital at the University of North Carolina, according to a statement from her parents, Brian and Laurie Yow.
"She has a long road to recovery that will include surgeries and rehabilitation, but her doctors at UNC expect she will keep her leg, and for that we are grateful," they said, appealing for time to deal with the trauma privately.
In the second attack 2 miles away, a shark bit off the left arm above the elbow of 16-year-old Hunter Treschel of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Treschel was in good condition Tuesday at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Martha Harlan said.
Baker, a paramedic for 11 years, and Joyce, a five-year veteran, said they routinely get called for shark attacks that turn out to be injuries from stingrays or jellyfish. But, Baker said, when he saw people frantically flagging down the ambulance and racing over the dunes at the site of the first attack, he thought, "This one seemed different."
A hundred yards away from a fishing pier, Yow lay face down in the sand. By the time Baker arrived, five bystanders with medical training had already wrapped tourniquets on her wounded leg and arm, and put an IV in, he said. No one was in the water anymore and about 40 people looked on in shock.
"People were hurried and worried and trying to usher a sense of urgency," Baker said.
The paramedics put Yow in a county ambulance, which took her to a soccer field to be airlifted. Once she was on the way to the hospital, the paramedics returned to the fire station to clean their gear and restock their supplies. That’s when the second call came in, they said.
"I was in disbelief that it had had just happened again," said Baker.
The conditions in the second attack were challenging. A downpour had just begun and Treschel was not receiving the same impromptu medical care from bystanders that Yow had, aside from the crucial belt-tourniquet. Even worse, the beach where he lay was narrow and the tide was coming in and washing over him, they said.
Nonetheless, the paramedics managed to work on Treschel, working quickly to get him off the narrow beach. They laid him down in the back seat of a police Ford Explorer and the vehicle drove him 30 feet to the beach access ramp, where paramedics transferred him into a county ambulance.
The intense thunderstorm prevented a helicopter from landing on the island, so a county ambulance instead drove Treschel to the Brunswick Medical Center in Bolivia, N.C. He was airlifted from there.
"Once you’re with a patient, you block the rest out," Baker said. "You’re in a haze."
The first responders said they had seen a lot of difficult injuries and while Baker said they might have been initially "caught off guard" by the shark wounds, their training kicked in.
On Tuesday, the first responders met to discuss the shark attacks.
"It was traumatic for them, even though they are seasoned veterans," Assistant Fire Chief Steve Conway said.
Meanwhile Tuesday, boats and a helicopter continued scouting the surf for sharks as beachgoers swam Tuesday. Officials advised adults to stay close to children and keep them in shallow water, Oak Island Town Manager Tim Holloman said. The town also advised people on how to avoid confronting a shark — for instance, by not swimming in late afternoon or evening when the big fish like to feed, Holloman said.
There were only 72 unprovoked shark attacks on humans around the world in 2014, including 52 in the U.S., according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Three of them — all outside the U.S. — were fatal. Shark researcher George Burgess, who oversees the database, said he’s aware of only two other multiple shark attacks on the same beach in one day.
Sharks that do bite humans typically let go when they realize that they don’t have a fish, he said.
Masters reported from Raleigh.