Shark! How One Surfer Survived an Attack

When a two-ton predator caught surfer Todd Endris in its jaws, an unlikely group of swimmers came to his rescue.

By Cathy Free from Reader's Digest | July 2008

With a burst of adrenaline, Endris thrust his head above the surface, gasping for air. The great white still had a hold on his upper thigh. “I figured my leg was gone,” Endris says, “but I couldn’t think about that right then.” He used all his strength to kick the shark repeatedly in the face with his free leg. The great white shot out of the water, thrashing Endris like a wet towel. The surfer swung his fists, hoping he’d get lucky and hit an eye. “Let me go!” he shouted. “Get outta here! Somebody, help me!”

He barely noticed the dolphins leaping over his head. Suddenly the shark released him. Fighting to stay afloat, Endris thought he saw the dolphins form a protective wall between him and the great white.

Joe Jansen had paddled only 15 feet toward shore in his panic when he decided he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t go back. He entered the pool of bloody water, half expecting to be attacked. “Quick! Get on your board!” he shouted to Endris. “C’mon, pal — it’s behind you. Let’s go!”

Less than a minute had passed since the shark had taken its first bite. Endris pulled his board close and crawled onto it. His skin was shredded to the bone. Jansen was horrified but stayed calm. “You can do it,” he said. “There’s a small swell coming. Let’s take it in.” Williams had also swum back to help; as soon as they reached the beach, they were joined by Simpson, who had been in shallow water when he saw his friend attacked. The three lifted Endris under his armpits and dragged him onto dry sand.

“That’s when the pain hit,” recalls Endris. He cried out as the men positioned him facedown on a slope so that more blood would flow to his heart and head. While Endris’s blood spurted from the gashes in his wet suit, somebody dialed 911.

Simpson tried to reassure his friend. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re going to make it,” he said, though he feared Endris wouldn’t last until the paramedics got there. “I thought, Who’s going to call this guy’s parents and tell them he’s dead?”

As it happened, Simpson, an X-ray tech at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, had witnessed his share of trauma cases. Working quickly, he wound a six-foot surfboard leash tightly around Endris’s leg to help slow the bleeding. There wasn’t much he could do for the 40-inch gash on his friend’s back. A flap of skin was hanging from his body, exposing his spine and internal organs.

When Endris craned his neck to see his injuries, Simpson and the others shielded his eyes. “His entire back was filleted,” says Jansen. “It was hard to look at. We just kept saying, ‘Take deep breaths. It’s not that bad. Hang on.’ ”

Endris, raised Catholic but an infrequent churchgoer, closed his eyes and said a silent prayer over and over: Lord, I need you, now.

It took ten minutes for a beach patrol crew, traversing the steep dunes in a four-wheel-drive pickup, to transport Endris to an ambulance. He was helicoptered to a trauma center in Santa Clara, where surgeons spent six hours putting him back together.

“He looked like an emery board,” says Maria Allo, MD, who oversaw Endris’s care. “We used a couple of gallons of saline to get the sand off his muscles and skin.” The shark’s teeth had nearly punctured one of Endris’s lungs and had missed his aorta by two millimeters. He had lost half of his blood and required more than 500 stitches and 200 staples to close the deep gashes.

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