A shark-attack victim who suffered severe injuries has thanked the staff at Westmead Private Hospital for giving her the chance to make “a beautiful new life”.
Brigitte Do spent the past six months in Australia after being bitten from behind by a bull shark while swimming at a beach in Noumea.
She has now returned home to New Caledonia following 18 surgical procedures, including the reconstitution of muscles from her back and amputated arm to her leg to ensure she could walk again.
“I want to thank everyone at Westmead Private. The surgeons, the physios, and all the nurses gave me more than care, they showed humanity, shared stories and laughs. And we will never forget the surprise they organised for my birthday,” said Ms Do, who turned 49 while in hospital.
“I wasn’t able to get out of bed, so the nurses suggested they wheel me outside for some fresh air, when we got outside my mother and sisters were there.
“When I came back to my room it was decorated with flowers, balloons, lots of party stuff. And there were around 10 Westmead Private staff in the room waiting to sing me happy birthday. They had cake and lots of good things to eat. I think I was both laughing and crying.”
The schoolteacher was initially treated at a local hospital after her ordeal during her daily swim at the beach – where three weeks later, in February 2023, an Australian man died after a shark attack.
She was transferred to the Western Sydney hospital due to the severity of her injuries.
“The shark came from the back and bit my back, my bottom, and the back of my left thigh,” Ms Do said.
“It was a big shock and when I turned my head to see what was happening I saw the shark’s eyes looking at me. I tried to protect myself with my hands and the shark bit me again, taking my left hand and half of the right hand.”
Westmead Private Hospital’s Dr Bish Soliman said it was “very rare” to see such severe injuries.
“They were unusual also, in that she lost her left hand and right thumb, index and middle fingers as well as her left thigh muscles and major nerve,” the specialist plastic and reconstructive surgeon explained.
“The local doctors did an amazing job in stabilising her prior to her transferring her to Westmead Private. From there, I discussed her case with a number of different surgeons.
“We discussed leg amputation and reconstructive options with Brigitte and her family and ultimately, together we decided to pursue a reconstruction.”
As well as multiple skin grafts, surgeons had to take a toe from her left foot to add to her right hand to replace her missing thumb so she could still grab and hold things, and prepare the stump of her missing left hand for a possible myoelectric prosthesis in the future.
Now able to walk again, Ms Do said she was looking forward to seeing her children again and resuming her life – including her daily swim routine.
“The hardest part is realising that my life will not be the same at all. That will be the next step after all the rehabilitation of my body, we will have to make a new beautiful life,” she said.
“Every day we realise that I’m able to do new things, like walking and climbing stairs, so I am happy I will be able to have a kind of autonomy. The next big thing will be the possibility of having a prosthesis for my left hand.”
Ms Do will return to Westmead Private Hospital for checkups in November.
She said her stay in Room 17, where she was also supported by her family, would be “forever part of our life”.
“I know that my case is unusual and that my wounds were a bit spectacular, but the people here were very respectful of me as a person and not only as a medical case. They showed such kindness,” she said.
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