This is part two of Lisa Mondy's candid interview. You can read part one here. WARNING: Details and images may be a bit graphic for sensitive readers.
In the aftermath of her near-fatal shark attack, Lisa Mondy relied on amazing surgeons to save her limbs and repair her body. Despite the trauma, she explained that from the moment it happened, she was forgiving of the shark. “Everybody makes mistakes, even sharks. I think it's a credit to their sensory systems that they don't make these mistakes more often. I think it's clear that sharks don't want to eat people—or they would! We would be a very easy target.”
According to NatgeoTV, there is a one in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark. Despite these odds, many are fearful of shark attacks while swimming in the ocean. On her road to recovery, Lisa rebuilt her relationship with the ocean and her love of water sports. Although she was unable to play guitar like she did before the attack, she managed to continue pursuing music. Four years after the attack, Lisa was a standout on the Season 7 premiere of The X Factor Australia. These days, Lisa has many projects she’s pursuing that pertain to the ocean, including a brand ambassadorship with Costa Del Mar and OCEARCH which helps raise money to save sharks.
Unleashed caught up with Lisa to learn more about how her life changed after the attack, why she helps save the creatures that almost killed her, and tips for staying safe in the ocean.
What were your injuries and how have they healed?
I am so lucky to have survived! I was very close to losing my life from blood loss. My left arm was torn up badly, with the brachial artery torn out, along with most of my biceps, triceps, and lots of skin, veins and other tissue. Three of the four major nerves in my arm were severed, the median, ulnar, and musculocutaneous. My face and neck were also lacerated, severing my facial nerve, parotid duct and coming so close to the artery in my neck. Surgeons said if that artery had only been nicked it would have all been over. My face lost tissue too, the maxillofacial team took extra time to stretch the remaining skin to stitch me back up, so that I didn't have to have a skin graft on my face. That side of my face didn't work very well for some time and is still a little lazy. There were debates as to whether to attempt to save my arm or amputate immediately. Knowing how long I would need to be under anesthetic meant a real danger of losing my life to save my arm. A 16-hour marathon surgery followed and the amazing doctors managed to save my life and my limb. Amazingly, I have regained limited function, feeling and strength in my arm.
While you were healing, what was going through your head?
The first stage was absolute elation to be alive, and to still have my arm attached. I was anxious to get back to the water. I went to the ocean immediately on my release from the hospital. A big storm front rolled over and it felt special and powerful to be back beside the ever changing seas. I was unable to get fully in the water for a long time until my wounds had sealed and I was able to remove enough of the cumbersome braces. However I was straight in the water and out on the boats, in their boom nets beside the dolphins. I must admit, I was a little jumpy at first—at shadows, or bits of seaweed.
How did life change after the attack?
I was unable to work the same physical jobs on the water or with music. (My left arm will never be the same again, so I can no longer play guitar.) I took up a job offer away from the coast, driving trucks. At about the two year mark, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) kicked in. I did find it difficult to get back in the water then, but the ocean meant too much to me to let it go. I pushed through and learned patience and mind control. The first time I tried wakeboarding again, I almost couldn't jump in the water off the back of the boat, even though we went to a lake system a fair way upstream from the ocean where the chance of a shark was low. My partner had to get in first and hold me tight. I was shaking and crying uncontrollably. I almost couldn't do it, but I pushed myself with every ounce of willpower I had. The moments between him getting back on the boat and me waiting to feel the slack of the tow rope take up seemed like an eternity. It took all my strength to manage my first one-armed take off. Right when I was about to let go of the rope, I gritted my teeth, and held that second longer, and I was up. I can't explain the relief and joy I felt as I cut across the wake and took my first turn.
How did you decide to channel the trauma into something beneficial?
I’ve always cared for all animals and the ecosystem, and that didn't change after my incident with the shark. In fact, it sparked my curiosity to learn more about them and how to live beside them in their realm. That's when I really found out the gravity of the situation that our oceans were facing if shark numbers continued to dwindle. Sharks are slow to mature and breed, just as nature intended, so their numbers stay at healthy levels. This means it takes time for them to recover from a low population. Meantime the second tier of the ecosystem flourishes and can have a devastating effect on the levels below. We need to look at the picture as a whole. We need to try to restore balance in this delicate marine ecosystem by implementing sustainable fishing practices on all fronts, and with reference to one and other. It won't be easy, but living without it once it's gone will be harder! That's why the research and science element is so important and why I'm passionate about partnering with Costa Del Mar and OCEARCH, to fill the data gaps and help find the path to a sustainable ocean. I'm proud to be working with Costa and OCEARCH on the #dontfearthefin campaign. It's about more than saving sharks, it's about keeping a sustainable ocean that will be there for our children and grandchildren to enjoy as we do. Don't fear the fin, fear a world without them! Since the incident lots of people and media have been interested to hear about my experience, and I quickly realized that gave me a platform to create a positive out of a negative situation by helping raise awareness about shark conservation. It really did help emotionally to focus on that positive opportunity.
Any ocean or shark safety advice for people spending time on the beach or in the ocean?
Follow organizations like OCEARCH shark tracker to find out where there may be increased shark activity. Be aware of conditions that may increase your risk of a negative encounter, such as murky conditions. The presence of feeding opportunities for sharks, such as bait fish congregations which attract larger fish, seals, etc,, or easy feeds, such as carcasses, and choose not to swim there, no matter how good the surf is! And remember the chance of a shark attack is tiny, so be aware but don't let it consume you. You're more likely to drown at the beach or have an accident on your way there, then be bitten by a shark.
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