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Chester County teen bitten by shark at Jersey Shore: ‘I felt a tug on my foot that pulled me under water’

Philadelphia Inquirer 5/23/2023 Jesse Bunch, The Philadelphia Inquirer

It was the first time 15-year-old Maggie Drozdowski got on a surf board, and likely the last — at least for a while.

The Chester County teen was bitten by a shark while surfing Sunday in Stone Harbor, N.J.

The day started under cloudy skies as Drozdowski and Sarah O’Donnell, a friend and classmate, smiled for a photo before they paddled their boards into the waters of the 109th Street Beach.

When a wave knocked Drozdowski off her board and into the chilly water, she told The Inquirer, she “felt a tug on my foot that pulled me underwater.”

“It just felt like pressure around my lower leg,” Drozdowski said. “It didn’t really hurt until I got out of the water — when I got out, it stung.”

Teen bitten by shark while surfing at a South Jersey beach

Experts recommend hitting a shark on the nose to fend off an attack. The best Drozdowski could muster during the frantic moment was to shake the creature off with her foot while kicking for her life underwater.

Fortunately, O’Donnell was nearby. The more experienced surfer told Drozdowski to jump back on her board and paddle to shore.

Drozdowski didn’t get a look at what bit her. When she yelled to her friend that she thought it could have been a shark, O’Donnell was in disbelief; she speculated that the bite was probably a pinch from a crab.

But most crabs don’t cause the bloody cuts Drozdowski saw on her left foot and calf.

On shore, O’Donnell’s mother called 911, and medical experts determined at a nearby hospital that Drozdowski was indeed bitten by a shark, though the culprit’s size and species remain unknown.

Drozdowski received six stitches and crutches, which she said she’ll need for about a week. And her mother, Lisa Drozdowski, received a shocking call from the hospital.

The elder Drozdowski, a physician’s assistant, said she’s spent most of her career in trauma surgery. Despite her experience, nothing could prepare her for the news that her daughter was in the ER — and the reason why.

“I was in shock,” Lisa Drozdowski said of the moment she picked up the phone call telling her her daughter had been bitten by a shark. “I just didn’t believe it.”

Since the bite, Maggie Drozdowski said, it’s been an exhausting week. In addition to becoming one of the nearly 30 confirmed victims of an unprovoked shark attack in New Jersey history, the teen is handling the newfound spotlight.

Before Drozdowski returns to class at Bishop Shanahan High School on Wednesday, she’ll have given a handful of interviews and appeared on television, while her story continues to make waves on social media.

The attack comes just days before people in the region flock to the Shore for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to the summer season.

Stone Harbor officials have made efforts to calm anxieties bubbling up around the attack, reminding beachgoers that the likelihood of being attacked by a shark is 1 in 11.5 million, according to data.

Beach activity will not be restricted this weekend, though swimmers were advised to exercise caution in the water.

“Updates regarding any new information or developments will be communicated to the public,” officials said in a statement. “Stone Harbor remains dedicated to maintaining the highest level of safety for all individuals enjoying their beautiful beaches.”

As for Drozdowski, surfing is on hold for the foreseeable future. Instead, she said, she’s more excited to get back to dancing, her favorite dry-land activity.

©2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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