Jei Turrell, 10, was bitten by a shark while swimming at a Hilton Head Island beach on Sunday, May 13, 2018. He is recovering at the Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah.

Jei Turrell, 10, was bitten by a shark while swimming at a Hilton Head Island beach on Sunday, May 13, 2018.
A shark bit 10-year-old Jei's right forearm while he and his older brother were splashing in waist-deep water Sunday, his mom Tonya Turrell told the Island Packet.

They had only been at the beach for about an hour when Tonya heard her younger son screaming and made out the word "shark!" That's when she saw the blood, she said.

Jei was airlifted to the Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah. The rest of the family followed in their car.

"That was the longest hour of my life, driving here," his mom said. They didn't know how bad his injuries were. They didn't know what to expect. All they were told was that getting him to a trauma center was the first priority.

The injury

Both boys saw the shark's nose as it bit down, they told their mom. It didn't seem like a big shark, they said, but Turrell thought it had to have been 4 to 5 feet long.

Experts at the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), a long-running database of shark attacks at the Florida Museum of Natural History, confirmed by looking at photos of Jei's wound that he was bitten by a shark. Experts weren't immediately sure what kind of shark it was.

"The most likely culprit based on the locality and size of the bite would be a blacktip or spinner shark," Lindsay French, research manager at the ISAF, told The Island Packet.

The shark's teeth — upper and lower — cut all the way to the bone of Jei's forearm, his mom said. She was grateful that the shark didn't take any part of his arm with it, but Jei did lose a good deal of blood.

"I wrapped a white towel around it and (afterward) it was completely dark red," Turrell explained. She applied pressure to his wounds and they took him to a lifeguard, who called for medical professionals.

He underwent surgery Sunday and was on the road to recovery in the hospital by Monday morning, though his hemoglobin level was not yet where it was supposed to be. On Facebook, his mom asked for prayers from friends and family.

"He is a trooper," Tonya Turrell said of her little boy. "He is so brave."

Jei has been in some pain, but he has also been able to laugh. A kids' menu at the hospital was named "Shark Bites" for kid-sized appetites. He got a kick out of it, his mom said.

Jei probably won't be venturing into the ocean again, he told his mom. The trauma of his experience will keep him on land, at least for the foreseeable future.