“The fact that I woke up with my arm was just mind-boggling to me after seeing the injury.”
These are the words of Florida firefighter Carsten Kieffer. He’s a recreational hunter, too, and set out with friends onto their state’s Lake Jessup to harvest an alligator or two.
To be fair to the alligator, we must note that Kieffer was, in fact, hunting said alligators when the incident occurred last August. The time since has been filled with surgery, physical therapy, and a return to firefighting – something Kieffer thought impossible and the most tragic of all.
Kieffer’s spotting of a good-sized gator would begin the attack. Hunting the species with firearms is illegal in Florida, so it’s up to “hooking” a specimen with bait, or getting proficient with a bow and/or crossbow. Kieffer’s crew chose the hooking method, and after snagging their alligator – all hell broke loose.
According to the firefighter, the large alligator managed to “launch off the bottom of the creek” and up into their boat after hooking. It would then latch onto his arm with the entirety of its toothy maw – nearly taking his arm completely off.
“I think he was just trying to defend himself. We had wounded him, and it was just his reflex,” he tells Newsweek for a follow-up July 13 interview after months of intensive rehab.
The result can be seen below:
“We heard the skin rip and then the bones crush…”
The gator didn’t leave the boat – or Kieffer’s arm – immediately. It became stuck on the railing, with its enormous body still half-submerged.
“At that point, everything kind of happened fast, and we heard the skin rip and then the bones crush,” he continues for Newsweek.
He remembers his immediate thoughts during, too. In a sense, his life did indeed flash before his eyes. A lifetime dream of becoming a firefighter was his reality – one he saw leaving him as soon as the alligator took hold of his arm. At the same time, his future with his 11 and 6-year-old children was in doubt.
“Everyday I wake up and I’m excited about going to work,” he tells the trade. “I’ve been doing this for 11 years now and that was my biggest thing, thinking: ‘What am I going to do now?’… “The biggest thing I was thinking about was just praying the alligator would let go without doing too much damage.”
Then, Kieffer says, he met the realization that his life as he knew it “was probably over.”
Had one of his friends not managed to jam a metal rod into the alligator‘s mouth, things may have gone differently. Whatever the case, Kieffer says the giant let go of his appendage once it went limp.
He would then stay at the Level One Trauma Center in Orlando Regional Medical Center for 11 days after coming in with crushed, exposed bone. Two plate implants, 17 screws, and bone & marrow samples from his pelvis later, surgeons were able to save his arm.
Thankfully, Kieffer is back on full duty as a Florida firefighter. But he may think twice about hunting alligators in his home state. Or anywhere, for that matter.