Edgemont man fights off shark in Cape Cod

William Lytton’s physical therapy includes getting as much walking and stair-climbing practice as possible.

What started off as a swim along a Cape Cod beach in Truro, Massachusetts, landed 61-year-old Edgemont resident William Lytton in the hospital after a shark attack Aug. 15.

“I decided to take a swim, I hadn’t done much exercise since I was on vacation, so I felt I could get in,” Lytton, a neurologist, told The Inquirer.

Heading south, Lytton swam from the town beach into the federal beach reserve. After 20 minutes, Lytton said he was struck in the leg “in a very painful way.”

When he turned around, he found a shark attached to his upper left leg.

“It was very terrifying,” Lytton said.

To fight off the shark, Lytton said he used a technique he had seen on a nature documentary, which reported one of the sensitive spots of a shark is the gills.

In a swing of faith, Lytton smashed the shark’s gills with his left hand.

“At first I was thinking I was dead, but that’s not a good attitude to have,” Lytton said. “I thought back to what the vulnerable parts of a shark were and remembered they were the eyes, nose and the gills.”

Lytton said the entire attack lasted less than a minute, and said he believes the shark, which he said was between 9 and 10 feet, was a great white shark, though no other reports have confirmed what type of shark was involved in the attack.

Adult great white sharks can weigh between 1,500 and 2,400 pounds. Female great whites can run between 15 to 21 feet long, while male great whites can be 11 to 13 feet long.

In early August, a great white shark was caught on video in Cape Cod breaching the water, ready to attack a researcher who was trying to tag it.

Eight sharks were tagged off Cape Cod this past season, according to boston.com.

An article in The New York Times Aug. 28 quoted Sarah Waries, chief executive of Shark Spotters, who confirmed Lytton followed good advice by hitting the shark in the eyes and gills.

Shark Spotters is a Cape Town organization that employs 30 specialists to scan the city’s beaches with binoculars from the cliffs and sound the alarm when they see a shark in the waters.

“Violently hitting and clawing at a shark in its most tender regions can scare it off,” the Times reported, noting the nose is another sensitive spot for a shark, but since the nose is close to the teeth, striking a shark in the nose is risky.

Though hitting the shark’s gills most likely saved Lytton’s life, the attack left him injured.

His arm is in a cast with bandages because of torn tendons. On his leg, he wears what he described as an air cast.

“I was bleeding, and I knew I had to get to shore,” Lytton said. “I was only about 10 to 12 feet away from shore, maybe six strokes, but I was looking at a giant cloud of blood, wondering how long I could stay conscious.”

Lucky for Lytton, people nearby saw him and came by to help.

“I think those people really saved my life,” he said.

Among the rescuers were off duty nurses and other medical professionals who helped stem the bleeding, created a makeshift stretcher and carried him up the sand dune to an ambulance. Lytton was airlifted by helicopter to Tufts Medical Center in Boston. He went through six surgeries and received 12 pints of blood, as reported by AP.

With the attack behind him, Lytton is focusing on rehabilitation and recovery.

“Recovery has been extremely fast, considering it was a shark attack,” he said. “The way [the doctors] closed up these wounds is incredible.”

Lytton had to relearn how to walk. At first he needed to use a cane, but currently he is able to walk without it, practicing on flat surfaces and on staircases.

Lytton, who said he still has another surgery to undergo, remains in Boston.

According to news reports, this was the first shark attack in Massachusetts waters since 2012, while the state’s last fatal attack was in 1936.

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