In chaos of shark attack, a Charlotte woman’s training paid off

Published: Jun. 16, 2015 at 2:53 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 16, 2015 at 2:53 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OAK ISLAND, NC (Mark Washburn/The Charlotte Observer) - In her 11 years with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Medic, Marie Hildreth has dealt with all kinds of trauma, but never a shark attack.

But she did Sunday afternoon during a family vacation on Oak Island when 12-year-old Kiersten Yow of Asheboro was bitten in the surf only yards away.

"A woman comes yelling, 'Shark attack! Shark attack!'" Hildreth said, as she was on the sand in front of the house her family of 17 was renting this week.

Hildreth ran over to help.

"Muscle memory kicked in, and it was like working everyday."

First rules: Assess the patient. Check breathing. Stop the bleeding.

Direct pressure on wounds is the best way to deal with bleeding, but the bite was bad. She went on to the next stage – apply a tourniquet. "She could have bled out," Hildreth said.

"It's one thing when you're in uniform," Hildreth said Monday. "It's a different situation when you have no supplies."

Next rule: Improvise.

With a rope cut from a boogie board and another taken from a nearby beach tent, Hildreth staunched the bleeding.

Family knowledge

If you had to select a spot to be attacked by a shark, you couldn't have done better than the beach in front of her family's rental cottage.

Hildreth's brother, a Charlotte firefighter was there. So was her brother-in-law, a police officer in suburban Baltimore. So was her other brother, who is trying to get on the Charlotte Fire Department. So was her husband, Charlotte Fire Capt. Greg Hildreth.

So was her mother, who saw the shark's fin moving up the beach. She followed, warning people to get out of the surf.

It was a team effort, but under N.C. law, Hildreth was in charge by virtue of having the highest medical certification on scene.

Authorities in Oak Island praised Hildreth and her family Monday for making a difference in the outcome of the situation. Their quick action might have saved a life.

Training made difference

Hildreth said Medic provides 44 hours of in-service training annually to members of the department. Since 2012, Medic has updated its protocols on dealing with serious wounds as a result of studies on wartime casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hildreth said she was well drilled in how to handle such cases, though she never expected to face a case quite like Sunday's.

Hildreth, 32, graduated from Butler High School and got her college degree at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She thought about becoming a doctor, but her brother Douglass Colbert, then with the Idlewild Volunteer Fire Department, got her into paramedic work.

She got her certification from Central Piedmont Community College and loves what she does.

She has the independence to work with patients from the start, reducing their pain and, sometimes, holding their hands while getting them to a higher level of care, she said.

After Kiersten had been taken to a trauma center in Wilmington, Hildreth said her family gathered in its cottage to reflect on what had happened.

"We thanked God," she said, "for the safety we had."