Teen in gator attack: Reality TV saved my life

1:22 PM, Jul 13, 2012   |    comments
Kaleb "Fred" Langdale (Courtesy NBC TODAY)
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the aftermath of an encounter with an alligator on Monday that cost him part of his right arm, a Florida teen recounted the harrowing moments when he was able to somehow remain calm during the attack in order to save his life.

Kaleb "Fred" Langdale, 17, was bitten by a 10-foot, 800-pound alligator in the Caloosahatchee River in Moore Haven, Fla., losing his right arm below the elbow. Using techniques he had seen from gator experts on reality television, he was able to escape, swim to shore and stop the bleeding before rescue workers arrived.

"My adrenaline was running so fast I didn't feel the pain, and I knew that if I freaked out or got scared, that was going to be the end of it,'' Langdale told Savannah Guthrie on Friday in an interview from his bed at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Fla.

That unflappable calm carried over to the aftermath of the incident, according to doctors. Lee Memorial surgeon Robert O'Connor tried to re-attach his arm, which had been removed from the alligator's stomach after it was killed by trappers, but he said too much time had passed after the attack to salvage the limb. Still awake when he was rushed to the emergency room, Langdale remained level-headed.

"Quite a stud,'' O'Connor told NBC News. "He was very much awake and calm and telling us the story like nothing happened.''

Langdale underwent surgery on Monday to close the wound and prevent infection and then had another surgery on Wednesday night to clean the wound and trim some of the bone before being stitched up. Langdale said the pain he experienced Thursday night was "the worst it's hurt since the attack.''

His doctors say he most likely will not need any additional surgery. They are preparing the wound for a prosthesis, and the family has set up a website to help pay for it. He will need physical therapy, but the overall outlook for him is positive.

"This young man has had a wonderful attitude toward this whole thing,'' O'Connor told NBC News. "I hope it continues, and he can have a full life and full recovery. I see no reason why he couldn't."

Throughout it all, Langdale has remained grateful that it was him who was attacked and not the friends swimming with him in the alligator-packed Caloosahatchee River, which is a popular place to cool off for Moore Haven residents.

"I was more concerned about them than I was me because I knew somewhat what to do,'' Langdale said. "If I knew everything, I'd probably still have my arm, but I knew a little bit what to do and I don't know if they could've handled it or not. I was just telling them to get out of the water when the gator had me.''

The reason he knew what to do, he confirmed to Guthrie, is from watching techniques he's seen on reality TV shows.

The alligator tried to pull Langdale to the bottom of the river when it latched on to his arm, but Langdale had the presence of mind to take his left hand and grab the skin underneath the gator's jaws to try to control him.

"When he first came at me, whenever I grabbed him, I latched hold of him and we went under and spun a little bit,'' he said. "I tried to bounce off and get to the bank, and that's when he got me.''

He soon realized that he was going to have to lose his arm if he wanted to survive, but remained calm enough to escape despite having part of his limb ripped off. He pushed his legs against the animal's jaws to free himself after losing his arm and was able to swim to shore.

"It felt like something came over me and just done it for me,'' he said.

Florida wildlife officials told NBC News that attacks like the one on Langdale are rare, but this time of the year is dangerous to go swimming in a lake, river or pond because it is mating season.

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