UNINVITED SURPRISE: Atlantan survives bite at Hilton Head

Maddie Hamalian

Meti Kershner, nine, stands in waist-high ocean water at Hilton Head Island’s Shipyard beach. The sun reflects brightly on the ocean waves at 4:30 p.m. on the Friday before Columbus Day weekend. Families wade in the water as Meti waits with with her arms ready at her side in anticipation for the next wave.

Suddenly, something tugs her arm. She raises her arm to find blood pouring from it and screams for her mom.

At first, Meti’s mother, Leigh Kershner, thought a red jellyfish hung from her daughter’s arm. Then, Leigh realized she stared at severed skin.

“Run!” Leigh yelled.

While on a family vacation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to visit family and friends, a shark bit Meti.

“It didn’t really feel like anything,” Meti said.

As she sat in a beach chair waiting for the ambulance, thinking, “Will I live?” her mother wrapped her arm in a towel and applied pressure.Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 11.31.56 AM

Immediately, a medical student at the beach approached Meti, calming her by telling her she would be OK. He turned around and asked others standing around if anyone had a string. Someone handed him a lanyard, and he applied a makeshift tourniquet to her upper arm to decrease the bleeding.

“It was a horrifying sight, but everyone was very calm,” the Kerschner’s friend Cathy Gaffney said.

Meanwhile, a vacationer pulled Meti’s siblings, Sechaba, Isabella and Tali aside and prayed with them.

On the way to board an airlift at the Hilton Head airport in an ambulance, the Emergency Medical Technician said he had never seen a shark bite before. Leigh called Meti’s father, Greg Kershner, who had stayed home that weekend, to tell him what happened.

In the meantime, Gaffney and her husband,Tom, went home with Meti’s siblings to eat dinner, read the Bible and pray. Even in the midst of the experience, they found comfort in their faith in God.

“We were able to sit in the living room and talk about—even though a bad thing happened to Meti—how the Lord was in this picture,” Gaffney said.

Meti and Leigh arrived 15 minutes later by helicopter at the Savannah Georgia Memorial Hospital, the closest hospital with the equipment to treat her injury.

The doctors took six X-rays of Meti’s arm, and despite not knowing what exactly bit her, they said that a shark most likely was the cause of her wounds.

Meti underwent surgery that night in the same room where she was admitted.

“I wasn’t really thinking,” Leigh said. “I was still in shock. I let it go [when I left] because I was trying to keep it together for Meti.”

Greg planned to meet Meti and Leigh at the hospital, but he was stuck in traffic.

“I was filled with a lot of anxiety,” Greg said. “I reached out to a couple of friends of mine, and we were praying about it as I was driving down, just that A, traffic would open up and that B, everything would go well.”

The doctors completed Meti’s surgery 45 minutes later.

“When Meti came out of surgery, [she] prayed and said, ‘Thank you God for letting me have my arm,’” Leigh said. “It was so precious.”

Gaffney arrived at the hospital after Meti got out of surgery to support Leigh.

“When I got there, Meti was laying on the bed there and she was like, ‘Come on, come on. Let’s go home. It’s time to go home,” Gaffney said.

By 10:30 that night, the hospital released them to return home where she reunited with her father.

“It was very surreal,” Greg said. “Meti came over and said, ‘Hi, daddy,’ and gave me a big hug.”

Meti slept soundly that night and woke up the next morning to see her siblings.

“All the kids were playing and watching some TV and arguing with each other over little things, like families do,” Greg said.

Despite Meti’s severe injury, the Kershner family returned to Atlanta at the end of the weekend.

“[God] prepared everything so she could be safe because it has really been the best case scenario for her,” Leigh said.

Back in Atlanta, they followed up with an upper extremities specialist in Atlanta.

Pediatric Orthopaedic Hand Surgeon Jeffrey A. Klugman suggested another surgery to ensure everything in Meti’s arm was connected because the Savannah doctor didn’t leave any doctor’s notes regarding the surgery. Also, Klugman said the numbness Meti felt in part of her hand resulted from a severed nerve.

“We were upset to find out that the [Savannah hospital] doctor had not provided those [operative notes] or told us that she had severed tendons and nerve that he did not reattach,” Leigh said.

On Oct.14, Meti underwent a second surgery at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Surgery Center, where they reopened her wound.

“I was scared,” Meti said. “I was nervous because these two were the only surgeries I have had.”

The doctors reattached two severed veins, four tendons and nerve and one shredded tendon. Without the surgery, Meti’s arm wouldn’t fully function because everything wouldn’t be connected.

Klugman was astounded to find that the shark narrowly missed her radial artery itself and instead severed two veins on either side of her radial artery.

“It was a huge blessing because the blood loss could have been so much worse,” Leigh said.

Meti is right handed, which is the arm the shark bit. She does her best to do her homework and class assignments, but nees help from family sometimes.
Meti is right handed, which is the arm the shark bit. She does her best to do her homework and class assignments, but needs help from family sometimes.

Meti is still on antibiotics for marine bacteria to prevent a marine bacterial infection that could lead to arm amputation.

Ironically, on the way up to Hilton Head Island, Meti’s family talked about not swimming in the ocean because of sharks.

“We had this long discussion about how we can be afraid of life or we can just enjoy life and not worry about getting hurt,” Leigh said.

Meti’s parents have struggled afterwards with blaming themselves for what happened.

“As parents, Greg and I have been beating ourselves up,” Leigh said. “How come we couldn’t protect her? But I think that is Satan, too, because that is taking away the blessings that God gave us in this situation.”

Meti is expected to have a two-year long recovery.

“Wow,” Meti said, when she was first told. She worried about how she would be able to write, since her injured arm, her right, is the one she writes with.

Recovery began with a new cast each week for a month. Typically casts allow people to move around without caution, but Meti’s circumstances are different.

“[The tendons] are like these small little rubber bands in her arms,” Leigh said. “The doctor said that you have to be really careful not to have it be bumped or anything because if you do that, it could break.”

The remainder of her recovery will consist of physical therapy, which will be difficult for her because strengthening one of her tendons is counterproductive to strengthening the other tendons.

In the meantime, family and friends continue to surround her with support from  being with her to helping her complete her homework.

“Everybody has been really wonderful to Meti,” Leigh said.

Despite the difficult situation, the family feels blessed because of the support and care people have surrounded them with.

“It’s definitely been an amazing time in our life,” Leigh said. “We are just so grateful.”


Photos by Maddie Hamalian