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Cape Cod shark attack victim says he escaped by punching the predator in the gills

Shark attack victim William Lytton spoke Tuesday at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where he is being treated.
Steven Senne/Associated Press
Shark attack victim William Lytton spoke Tuesday at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where he is being treated.

The man bitten by a shark off Cape Cod this month said Tuesday he escaped by punching the powerful predator in the gills after it clamped down on his leg.

In his first interview since the Aug. 15 attack, William Lytton said he’d been swimming in about ‘‘8 to 10 feet’’ of water off Truro when he felt an incredible pain shoot through his left leg and quickly realized he was being attacked by a shark.

The 61-year-old Scarsdale, N.Y., neurologist said he gave the animal a strong smack in the gills with his left hand, a move that likely saved his life but also resulted in some torn tendons. He now sports an arm cast as well as bandages and a brace around most of his left leg.

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‘‘I initially was terrified, but, really, there was no time to think,’’ he said, recounting the ordeal following a physical therapy session at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where he’s been since Sunday. ‘‘It doesn’t feel like I did anything heroic. A lot of this was luck.’’ Lytton said he must have recalled from nature documentaries that the gills were one of the most vulnerable parts of the shark. After the animal broke its grip, he took a few strong stokes to shore where he shouted for help. Someone alerted his wife, who had been on the beach with their two young daughters and friends.

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Other beachgoers — including off duty nurses and other medical professionals — helped stem the bleeding and carried him up the dunes to the beach parking lot as he started to lose consciousness from the blood loss.

‘‘The pain was really excruciating,’’ Lytton said. ‘‘I remember the helicopter landing and then nothing for the next two days.’’

Lytton was airlifted to Tufts Medical Center, where, he said, he was placed into a two-day coma, underwent six surgeries, and had nearly 12 pints of blood pumped into him.

Lytton worked with physical therapist Caitlin Geary Tuesday at Spaulding Rehab.
Steven Senne/Associated Press
Lytton worked with physical therapist Caitlin Geary Tuesday at Spaulding Rehab.

Lytton said he’s grateful to be alive, but knows he has weeks more of rehab — and at least one more surgery — before he’s back on his feet.

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The shark, fortunately, missed critical nerves and veins and didn’t leave major bone damage, though pieces of shark teeth were cleaned out of his wounds and his bandages cover ‘‘hundreds’’ of sutures used to stitch back together muscles and skin, Lytton said.

Lytton is expected to be at Spaulding for about two weeks before eventually returning to New York for possibly more rehab.

Lytton said he isn’t in any rush to wade back into the ocean waters off the Cape, where he spends nearly every summer doing research.

‘‘It’s kind of terrifying thinking about it,’’ he said. ‘‘I know it’s not the best thing to say, but I didn’t like sharks before, and like them even less now.’’

State biologists are working to determine what type of shark was involved in the attack.