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Man turns tragedy into opportunity

Caitlin Rickard • Updated Oct 8, 2013 at 9:50 PM

Craig Hutto says he remembers everything but a split second from June 27, 2005.

Hutto, then 16, was on vacation with his family in Cape San Blas, Fla., an isolated area about 60 miles south of Panama City Beach.

Hutto said they arrived Saturday and he and his older brother Brian immediately geared up for fishing, buying poles and frozen shrimp nearby.

A 1-foot-deep sandbar about 30 yards from shore would soon become their fishing spot, and Hutto said that as they waded to the sandbar, there was a 5-foot gully before where the water was deepest.

After fishing all day Saturday and Sunday, Hutto said Monday was very overcast and the water was more than murky.

“You could see maybe 6 inches under water; there was no perception where you were in the water or anything around you,” Hutto said.

Monday, Hutto said the fish were biting quick and often.

After his brother caught an 18-inch fish, Hutto said they returned to the water, his competitive nature longing to catch one bigger.

Hutto said as they approached the gully, with water at his belly button, he felt a “firm punch” to his left thigh.

“I didn’t see anything and it freaked me out, so I jumped back and just yelled, ‘What was that?’” Hutto said.

The next second, something grabbed Hutto by his right leg and didn’t let go.

“I didn’t even know where I was being grabbed because I immediately went into shock,” Hutto said. “The best way to describe what I felt was a very intense shaking pressure. It wasn’t necessarily pain, but constant numbing.”

Hutto said he remembers everything from the day except when he immediately was taken underwater by the shark, to which he told himself, “Craig, you have to wake up,” thinking this all was a dream.

Hutto said, like a scene from “Jaws,” he began to be dragged.

Hutto then said his brother saw the fin of the bull shark and swam to him, breaking his fishing pole over the animal.

“Brian grabbed me across the chest, and we both started swimming back, but the whole time the shark was still biting up and down my leg,” Hutto said. “It was fighting against us; he was just riding with us.”

Halfway back Hutto said he stuck his hands in the water to try to pry the shark’s mouth open, which proved to be a bad idea and shredded his left hand and right index finger.

Hutto said the shark severed his right femoral artery, so with every heartbeat, blood pumped from his body.

“All I could see was the brown water and bright red blood,” Hutto said.

About 2 feet from shore Hutto’s dad rushed to grab him, as his brother punched the shark in the snout several times, finally freeing him.

Hutto said people gathered on the beach and thankfully three nurses happened to be on hand and immediately began applying pressure to stop the bleeding.

Having lost so much blood, Hutto said he could barely breathe, but the worst pain came as medics applied a tourniquet so Hutto could be taken by helicopter to Panama City.

“I couldn’t feel pain really except when someone was pressing on my artery, then I was screaming in pain,” Hutto said.

The next morning Hutto said he awoke and told his mother, “Please don’t let them take my leg.”

“I kind of figured that was what was going to happen anyway, so I don’t know why I said it,” Hutto said.

Hutto said it was tough on him, being a basketball and baseball player and he caught himself sulking until his brother, Brian, told him to quit being a baby.

“He said, ‘You’ve already gone through hardest part, suck it up,’” Hutto said. “That really changed me. I realized you can’t change the past, but you can change how you react to the situation.”

Hutto said he always had tremendous support from friends and family while in the hospital, so that also helped him through recovery.

In all, Hutto said he was in the hospital for two-and-a-half to three weeks, and underwent seven surgeries while he was there.

Hutto said that after getting functionality back in his hands, he then could use crutches and be fit for a prosthetic, and after six months he felt he was able to do everything. And after eight months, he said everything was back to normal.

“It hasn’t limited me besides maybe being a NBA basketball player,” Hutto said.

Hutto said he then went on to MTSU, where he went through the nursing program.

“After the accident I realized the importance of health care professionals,” Hutto said.

Hutto then went on to get his master’s at Vanderbilt and is hoping to be accepted to start the PhD program at Vanderbilt Graduate School in the fall.

Hutto said the reason he’s interested in the research stuff now is because, in 2007 at age 18, his doctor told him about a research study at Vanderbilt making new prosthetic legs.

Vanderbilt’s Director of Megatronics Lab Michael Goldfdarb has now been working on making a new prosthetic leg, the Vanderbilt Powered Prosthesis, which has active motors in the knee and ankles.

“Typical legs are passive and they have a hydraulic unit, which offers resistance but not active power so they’re always step behind you. You trigger everything and it follows,” Hutto said.

Hutto said the new knee and ankle motor allows you to go up and down stairs normally foot after foot, instead of stepping with the left and having to bring up the right.

Most recently, Hutto said they have been working on running and developing a running controller, but have only been on a treadmill with it so far.

Hutto said initially he was just a test subject, but since 2007 he’s really been consistent in working with the program, usually going by a few days a week.

“It’s opened doors to research for me and I enjoy research and what I’m doing now,” Hutto said.

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