MIAMI – (CBS4) – The headline sounded surreal: A jumping fish severely injures a woman kayaking in the Florida Keys. But the unfortunate incident was all too real for one South Florida couple.
Now, three months after the incident, the couple at the center of that story spoke to the CBS “The Early Show” and recounted more details of the bizarre story that injured 46-year-old Karri Larson’s lung and ribs.
Larson and her boyfriend Michael Hinojosa, both of Big Pine Key, took a kayak trip on October 17th that they would never forget.
On Monday, Larson told CBS about the terrifying moments after a barracuda jumped out of the water, striking with such a force that it broke her ribs and collapsed one of her lungs.
“I had a towel, and I looked down and it was just completely saturated with blood, so I knew I was losing, you know, a lot of blood. And then, from the way I was breathing and the extent of the pain, I could tell it was a rib injury, and could hear the gurgling, so I knew I had punctured lungs,” Larson recalled.
Her boyfriend, Michael Hinojosa, helped save her life by holding her lungs closed.
“We were out north of Big Pine, which is the island that we live on, feeling we were really safe,” Hinojosa said. “I spotted in the distance a giant barracuda coming in our general direction, probably 40, 50 miles an hour, really moving fast and skipping across the water. We’ve never seen a fish of this size jump before. I certainly didn’t expect what happened to happen. It exploded on our left. Kerri never saw it. It hit here in the ribcage and threw her out of the boat. It was moving really fast. It shattered her ribs, like she said. I had her scrambled back onto the boat and when I saw the wound, she had a hole in her side. I cupped my hand over it, her lung was trying to pop out into my hand. I realized then that she might not make it and I was really, really scared. I didn’t know what I was going to tell her family if she didn’t make it.”
Fortunately, Kevin Freestone, of TowBoatUS, helped with the rescue arriving just 30 minutes after the barracuda strike.
“He knew exactly what to tell me and he told me, he said, ‘You need to get here as quick as you can. You need to save a life today,”‘ Freestone said of Hinojosa.
Freestone described what he saw when he arrived.
“We shot across (the water) over there and got up alongside and you could see she was in pain, but very coherent, sitting pretty strong. Mike’s sitting there, put the paramedic on the boat, and the paramedic looked at me after he looked at the wound, he says, ‘Get me inclusive dressing,’ and he’s looking around like, this is bad. I knew it was a second chest wound, and it just was really serious,” Freestone said.
Throughout the 30-minute wait, Hinojosa held more than Larson’s lungs together. He also lifted her spirits by talking about their future together.
“She didn’t want to talk about the injury,” Hinojosa said. “She wanted me to talk about positive, happy things. So I began realizing, she’s going to have a lot of time off of work, so I started talking about potential vacations we could take. Places that I could take her to visit. She’d never been to Europe. I pestered her into getting a passport, so she has a passport. I wanted to take her to Europe. So I began trying to distract her away from what was actually happening. Because it was just too long.”
Thirty minutes later, Freestone arrived with a small boat ferrying a paramedic to reach Larson. She was taken from the boat to a nearby marina.
Once on shore, Larson was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital where she was treated in the Intensive Care Unit. She spent the next nine days in ICU recovering from a shattered rib and a punctured lung.
Larson said she’s still in a lot of pain, but her condition continues to improve daily.
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