If your belief in the power of the human spirit ever flags, all you need to do is look at the fact Eric Merda is still alive.
According to The New York Times, Merda survived four days in a Florida swamp after losing his arm to an alligator attack and struggling to stay alive.
The attack occurred on July 17. Merda, who had some free time between his irrigation service calls that day, decided to visit Manatee Fish Camp, which was near one of his job sites in the Sarasota, Florida, area.
“His downtime on that summer Sunday turned into what he described as a nightmare survival story: four days and three nights lost, naked and suffering alone in the swamp after an alligator bit off his right arm,” the Times reported.
Merda’s problems began when, as he explored the swamp, the heat began getting to him and he couldn’t think straight. Lost, he decided the best way to get back to his vehicle was to swim through Lake Manatee — a two-square-mile artificial reservoir which is known as an alligator habitat.
However, his clothes were dragging him down, so he ditched them. Shortly afterwards, he saw a horrific site that would change his life: an alligator swimming parallel to him in the water.
“He said he tried to swim away, but the animal was faster. It latched onto his right forearm, and the two fought,” the Times reported.
“The animal pulled him under three times, then bent his forearm backward. It snapped away at the elbow and the alligator swam away with his forearm and hand in its mouth.”
However, the 43-year-old managed to escape and get to shore.
The next few days were a Herculean struggle. He got sleep when he could and pushed on when he was able. He stayed near the shoreline in order to avoid becoming further lost.
“I kept getting lost in the grasses,” he said.
“I was scared to death to go back to that water but I had to. I didn’t know how the heck else I’m going to get out of there.”
And then there was his physical condition: “I got bone poking out of me, muscles twitching,” he said.
“There was a lot of times I couldn’t keep going — a lot,” he said. “As the days got longer, of course it got worse and worse. That last day, if I had to guess, I bet that last day I didn’t move but 100 yards.”
“Flies swarmed his limb. His R.O.T.C. training taught him he had to tourniquet the arm, but he didn’t have anything to do it with,” the Times reported.
“He was cut up from walking through thorns; his back got attacked by red ants. Scavenged purple flowers became his meals. He drank from the lake.”
And to make matters worse, he said that when he looked back at the water, “the alligator just keeps popping up here and there” — a horrific site if there ever was one.
People that knew Merda started realizing something was wrong because of his social media posts — or rather, the lack thereof.
After he went several days without posting anything on Facebook, family and friends contacted local hospitals.
After the four-day ordeal, Merda came to a fence bordering the Lake Manatee Fish Camp and located another individual, who went on to contact authorities.
He ended up spending three weeks in the hospital, where more of his arm was amputated because of infection. However, he’s alive and is being fitted with a prosthetic arm.
He’s otherwise healthy and his children are apparently handling their father’s condition better than one might expect.
Merda said his 4-year-old asked why he only has one arm now. “Daddy had to beat up an alligator,” he responded.
Which, if you get attacked by an alligator, is basically your best option.
“If you’re in the jaws of an alligator and it isn’t letting go, fight like your life depends on it,” said Frank Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida. “Because it does.”
As for Merda, he’s looking forward to his new lease on life.
“I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to fight through that,” he told the Times.
He also said he’s looking for new work. One option? Motivational speaker. Given his superhuman perseverance, I’d say he fits the bill quite nicely.
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