Cape Town - The young Cape Town surfer bitten by a shark believes he was protected by an angel and is “so grateful to be alive”.
Tom Browne was speaking from his hospital bed in Hermanus on Tuesday, where he was still being monitored to ensure his leg was not infected by bacteria from the shark’s teeth.
The 19-year-old is a student at the UCT, studying geomatics, the official name of land surveying.
On Monday, he, two friends and a friend’s father set out for a public holiday surf at Die Plaat, just west of De Kelders on the Walker Bay coastline.
After paddling out to the backline, shortly before 9am, he was sitting on his board, waiting for a wave when a shark, believed to be a great white, bit his board and leg.
His recollection of what followed is numbed by the massive surge of adrenalin which remained with him until he was being treated at Hermanus Mediclinic.
He didn’t even feel pain.
“Throughout the whole incident, you’re so pumped with adrenalin you don’t feel anything,” he told the Cape Argus.
“At the time, it’s really like you’re living a nightmare, when you’re in the water, having that experience.
“But there were so many factors that day, that I believe He was looking over me and had an angel protecting me,” Browne said.
“I really wanted to live. Being just 19 and studying, and with my love of the outdoors… I had so much to live for. I just couldn’t go that day.”
He cited several factors which collectively allowed him to survive.
First, the shark had bitten not only his leg, but the back part of his board, including one of the fins.
“I’ve been told that that’s probably why the shark bit and then released, because it mistook my fin for a bone,” he explained.
“Then there was a wave right then, which I could catch” - which had powered him shorewards out of danger.
“Then, on the shore, normally I’m dropped off when I surf, but we had a car with us. And we’d even parked at the closest point to the beach” - which had allowed him swift access to the hospital.
He was later told by medical staff that the shark’s teeth had missed a nerve by about 1cm, and had just missed an artery.
“Even if my artery had just been nicked, it would have been game over,” he said.
“There were all these factors behind me. It was not just chance - it was a divine experience.
“I just sat in the back of the bakkie and realised ‘I’ve still got my limbs, I’m okay’.
“It has made me slightly more religious. I was wearing a cross that day, out in the water, and I felt its power that day.”
Among the worst parts was the subsequent account by his friend, Cairin Michie.
“He was facing me as we sat on our boards in the water, and he said it was the scariest moment of his life - watching his friend fighting for his life, but being helpless, not being able to do anything,” Browne said.
Browne hoped to be discharged from hospital on Wednesday.
“I’ll be fine. I’m still in shock, but I was very, very lucky.
“It’s going to take me some time to get back to that spot, but you won’t keep me out of the water,” the surfer promised.