Louisiana boy hospitalized after alligator attack
NEW ORLEANS -- A day after his arm was bitten off by an alligator in a Louisiana pond, Devin Funck was recovering from overnight surgery to reattach the severed limb retrieved by an alligator hunter from the reptile's belly.
An enormous alligator, dubbed "Big Joe" by residents, attacked Funck, 11, biting off his left arm at the shoulder and sparking a scramble to save the boy's life -- and perhaps his arm.
Doctors at Ochsner Hospital worked Wednesday night to reattach the arm, which had been recovered from the alligator's stomach about 31/2 hours after the attack.
Amiee Goforth, spokeswoman for the hospital, said she could not release the boy's condition or say whether the surgery was successful without permission of the family.
Funck and two friends from Slidell, La., about 20 miles northeast of New Orleans, had trudged half a mile to a small pond called Crystal Lake for a swim Wednesday afternoon. The towels, toys and other gear that still dotted the beach Thursday testified to the spot's popularity with area kids.
"It's an ideal pond to swim in, clean, beautiful," said Howard McCrea, 61, the St. Tammany Parish deputy and nuisance alligator hunter who caught the animal that attacked Funck. "But it's kind of a hike to get to it, and there is no supervision there."
People living in the area know about the alligators that swim in the three small lakes and waterways around their houses.
They especially knew about Big Joe, the 11-foot-long, 500 pound monster that swam in Crystal Lake. But, they weren't especially worried -- alligator attacks in Louisiana are rare and usually the injuries are not serious. Only 13 fatalities were recorded nationally since 2000, and none was in Louisiana.
"This was a very large gator, and as they get bigger they can become more aggressive," said Noel Kinler, manager of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' alligator program. "It's too bad someone didn't contact us to get it out of there."
McCrea said he found Big Joe within half an hour of the attack. But it took another 21/2 hours to kill and land the big reptile, cut it open and retrieve the arm.
"It was all together, but it was a blueish color," McCrea said of the torn limb. "It had been pulled from the shoulder."
Officials immediately placed the arm in an ice chest and rushed it to the New Orleans hospital where doctors waited to try to reattach it.
"The urgent problem with reattaching a limb is getting blood supply to the muscle as soon as possible," said Dr. Charles Dupin, head of plastic surgery at the LSU Health Science Center. After four hours without blood you begin to get irreversible damage to the muscle. And if the muscle dies it cam become infected."
Even if the limb is reattached, the person probably will not regain full use of it, Dupin said. "It is very heroic surgery and the risks are very high," he said.
Officials were not sure why the alligator attacked the boy, although in warm weather they feed more often, Kinler said. Feeding alligators can also decrease their fear of people and lead to attacks, Kinler said. St. Tammany Parish is the only parish in Louisiana where it is against the law to feed alligators, McCrea said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)