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Mom of teen who lost her hand and leg after shark attack gives update on her progress

Lulu Gribbin was searching for sand dollars in waters off Florida's panhandle when a shark bit off her hand and attacked her leg, later leading surgeons to amputate it.
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Posted at 6:44 PM, Jun 12, 2024

The mother of a 15-year-old girl who lost one of her hands and a leg after one of a string of shark attacks that hit the Florida panhandle Friday has given updates on her daughter's injuries and progress, saying the girl continues to surprise her parents with her "attitude, strength, humor and understanding of what has happened to her."

Lulu Gribbin had been looking for sand dollars with her twin sister, Ellie, and friends in Rosemary Beach when a shark bit her hand off and left her leg severely damaged. Lulu was airlifted to a hospital in Pensacola, where doctors had to amputate her leg "halfway up from her knee to her hip" during surgery, Lulu's mother, Ann Blair Gribbin, wrote on CaringBridge.

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Ann Blair had written at the time that Lulu had multiple surgeries ahead and that their lives will now be forever changed. And in her latest update Wednesday, the mom said she was in the back of an AirMed jet, heading to a specialist who is a "pioneer in multi-extremity amputees."

"We made the decision, not lightly, to have the remainder of her surgeries and rehab done in another hospital setting," the mother wrote. "We believe this will give Lulu the best opportunity to live [as] normal life as possible with two prosthetics. Medically, this is the best option for Lulu and is another step in this journey and road to healing."

Lulu's mom wrote that she felt "extreme sadness" for leaving the place that kept her daughter alive and thanked the staff for all their work. She also said that of all her current emotions, Lulu told a child life specialist she's mostly feeling grateful, which her mom echoed.

"As I sit here in the back of this plane, I am watching Lulu as she is asleep, and her chest is going up and down and in and out," Ann Blair wrote. "I am smiling at her overwhelmed with a sense of happiness and gratefulness. She is alive and she is breathing."

On CaringBridge Tuesday, Ellie described the attack — which occurred on a mother-daughter trip with a group of their friends and their moms — from her point of view.

Ellie said she and her twin were swimming in search of more sand dollars when her friend yelled that there was a shark. She said she and another friend "started swimming for our lives," and when she finally looked back, "the entire ocean is red."

Lulu's twin said she ran to her sister after a man carried her out of the water, and when her mom — who had just been returning to the beach from lunch — arrived, the 15-year-old said she stayed strong for the three of them while doctors tied a tourniquet on Lulu's leg.

"I hugged her and let her cry into my shoulders while the doctors on the beach stopped the blood flow to her leg and arm," Ellie wrote. "It was very difficult for me to stay strong, but I went into straight survival mode. I had to survive so that my mom and Lulu could. I knew the pain Lulu was enduring and I knew that mom had no one else to comfort her besides myself, so I stayed strong for both of them."

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Lulu was one of three people injured by shark attacks in the area Friday afternoon, which led Walton County to close its beaches temporarily. The first attack left a 45-year-old woman in Watersound without her lower left arm. Lulu and the third victim — a 17-year-old girl who was on the trip with the Gribbins — were attacked about 90 minutes and four miles away. The third girl suffered flesh wounds to her right foot.

Since the attack, Ann Blair said her family and hospital staff have been amazed by Lulu's level of alertness, particularly after multiple surgeries to close off the amputations and clean out her wounds. And when the central line to her heart and those connected to her leg were taken out, Lulu got a front seat to actions she might be doing in her future.

"You probably don't know this, but Lulu wants to be a doctor. So, when these lines were being taken out, she asked if she could watch. The nurses brought in a big mirror so she could see exactly what they were doing and how everything worked. Lulu is here!"

And despite the tragedy, both Ellie and Ann Blair have expressed that Lulu's resolve hasn't changed.

"What I have witnessed is that Lulu is here," Ann Blair wrote Monday. "Nothing about her personality or funny, smart loving self has changed one bit. She may have lost her hand and her leg, but she is here, and we are truly grateful for that."