Great training, timing and physical fitness saved the life of Maria Korcsmanos of Corona Sunday when she was attacked by what experts believe was a great white shark. The single bite extended from her shoulder to her abdomen and punctured her lungs.
Korcsmanos, 52, was training for an Ironman triathlon and wearing a wetsuit when she was bitten by a shark while swimming along a buoy line off Corona del Mar State Beach that separates boats from swimmers. Luckily a Newport Beach Lifeguard patrol boat was within sight of Korcsmanos and she was strong enough to tread water and wave her arm signalling for help.
The two lifeguards in the boat hauled her aboard within less than a minute of the attack. Neither the lifeguards nor Korcsmanos ever saw any animal in the water and before the size and the shape of the wound was revealed, there was speculation that one of the sea lions that lives near the adjacent Newport Harbor entrance might have been the attacker.
Once Korcsmano was rushed to the Global Medical Center in Orange, there was no doubt about the type of animal that inflicted the large wound.
"If you want to draw a picture of a (shark) bite, that's what it would look like," said Dr. Humberto Sauri, the center's trauma medical director, told the Orange County Register.
Doctors were able to stabilize Korcsmanos with a blood transfusion and worked for hours to repair the multiple bite sites. They credited the athlete’s fitness and calm with aiding the successful operation. The only concern is infection from the animal bite. She was given a course of antibiotics and the doctors were careful to look for shark teeth in the wounds, which they didn’t find.
While no actual sighting and no teeth means it is impossible to identify the species of shark for certain, Chris Lowe, head of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, said Tuesday that based on the size of the wounds, the biting shark was likely an adult great white measuring more than 10 feet long.
There have been two fatal shark attacks on open water swimmers in recent years, one a solo female swimmer in the waters off Avila Beach and one a male swimmer straggling behind a group of swimmers off Solana Beach. There have been multiple shark attacks on fishing kayaks, but no fatalities, according to kayak fishing writer Paul Lebowitz.
Shark sightings and attacks, while still rare, have been increasing due to Federal protections for marine mammals that have dramatically increased populations of seals and sea lions and a decades-long California ban on targeting great white sharks. Of course there are lot more swimmers and kayakers, too.