An alligator bit a Florida firefighter on the face while swimming in a lake, leaving him in the hospital for a week. The victim, Juan Carlos La Verde, 34, was a US Air Force veteran, and at the time, he was currently serving as a firefighter and paramedic with Oldsmar Fire Rescue.
At the time of the attack, he had been preparing for an athletic competition in Lake Thonotosassa on Aug. 3, according to reports. Tragically, he suffered severe injuries to his head and face, according to a GoFundMe campaign that his friend, Kenney Ceron, began.
Thankfully, despite suffering severe wounds, he was able to escape the alligator’s jaws. He swam ashore and called the sheriff’s office for help.
Once paramedics arrived, they transported him to Tampa General Hospital, where doctors performed a six-hour surgery on him to repair the damage to his skull and jaw. Later, they transferred him to the ICU.
On Tuesday, La Verde’s friend, Ceron, shared an update about his friend. Ceron revealed that he’s recovering nicely but admits he has a long way to go.
“He is able to talk and communicate now through his trach and is breathing on his own,” he wrote. “He is still having some pain which is expected.”
Ceron added that his mouth is “wired shut” and will remain so for at least the next couple of weeks. Doctors will perform another surgery in the future to replace a plate in his head.
Alligator victim actively involved in charities, giving back
“The journey will be long but he is a fighter and will come out strong!” the friend added. The GoFundMe description read that La Verde, who is also married, has dedicated much of his life to helping others. During his life, he’s been involved in multiple charities.
As a triathlete, he’s raced in competitions to raise money for cardiology and leukemia nonprofit organizations. In addition, Ceron said that he had recently launched his own organization, Defeat X, that encourages others to exercise and get involved in healthy outdoor activities to combat their own personal struggles.
Per Ceron, at the time of the attack, La Verde was swimming in the lake last week to prepare for an upcoming Defeat X race. He was filming a promotional video for the event when the alligator attacked him.
Following the incident, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sent a trapper to the lake and launched an investigation.
Unfortunately, alligator attacks are becoming more and more commonplace in Florida. The species’ headcount in the state is over one million, meaning there’s one alligator per twenty residents.
However, alligator populations looked much different in the 1980s. Back then, the reptiles were on the endangered species list but have since come off of it. In addition, there’s even a stretch of I-75, dubbed “Alligator Alley” due to its rife population.