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On The Scene

Cabell: Biggest threat to shark victim is brain damage

Brian Cabell
Brian Cabell  


Brian Cabell is a national correspondent for CNN. He is in Pensacola, Florida, reporting on the status of 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast, who lost his arm and part of his leg in a shark attack last Friday.

Q: What is the biggest threat the boy faces, from his injuries sustained in last Friday's shark attack?

Cabell: The biggest injury, according to doctors, is brain damage. They fear that he may have suffered brain damage during those first 30 minutes after the attack. They frankly don't know whether he has suffered brain damage at this point, and the extent of it. They may find that out in the next few days, but that is certainly far and away the biggest concern they have. There is also concern about swelling of his brain. If the brain swells too much, he could die, literally. So they are monitoring that very closely and are hoping that in the next couple of days the brain does not swell. If he gets past the first week or so without major swelling of the brain, they say there is a very good chance he will survive.

Q: How long before they know the extent of any possible brain damage?

Cabell: They say within three to seven days they will have a pretty good idea as to whether he suffered from brain damage [but] the extent of it they won't know probably for several months.

Q: Are doctors optimistic that the boy will make it through?

Jessie Arbogast
Jessie Arbogast  

Cabell: They repeatedly say they are "guardedly optimistic." They don't want to be overly optimistic because that will raise hopes too much [for the] parents and among the people who are pulling for this young boy. But they have said that it is probably likely that he will suffer some sort of permanent damage. They don't want to be too detailed about that -- they say, considering what he went through last Friday night, when he literally had no blood pressure, no pulse and almost no blood in his body for a period of time, it would be remarkable if he didn't suffer some sort of permanent damage. Q: Are there any other threats, besides brain damage, to his quality of life if he pulls through? Cabell: His kidneys are failing right now, so he is undergoing dialysis, but there's a good chance he may regain full use of his kidneys. His [right] arm was the major concern initially, but that has been reattached, and it looks as though that reattachment is taking. He had a sizable chunk taken out of his [right] leg -- that seems to be healing pretty well. But they say he probably will never have full, 100 percent use out of his arm and he probably will walk with a limp, at least initially. As for his other organs, they are watching and seeing. These first couple of days up until Friday -- the first week -- is the crucial period. If he makes it through this first week, there is a good chance he will survive. Again, the overriding concern is his brain -- will he have suffered some damage? They don't know at this point.

Q: Have the doctors said if they have ever seen anything like this?

Cabell: One of the surgeons who worked on him last Friday night and early Saturday morning actually served a year in Bosnia with a number of war victims. [He] said there was no doubt this was the worst case he had ever seen. The one good aspect of this particular attack, however, is that it was a very clean injury. In terms of reattaching the arm, that made it very good. It was not roughly cut. When the shark bit off the arm, [it] did it in a clean fashion, so that enabled him to reattach it in pretty good form, they say.

In terms of blood loss, this is about as bad as they've seen. We talked to a number of doctors and most say they have never seen someone survive after having no pulse, and virtually no blood for 30 minutes. This kid is remarkable, they say, [he had] remarkable resiliency, and as you can imagine they are just hoping he can pull through. But there is genuine concern that he may pull through, he may survive, but what will be left of him in terms of brain function, they don't know.

Q: After having no pulse for 30 minutes, did emergency technicians think he was dead? Does reviving him after such a long time without a pulse raise any ethical questions?

Cabell: When the emergency officials arrived on the scene, they were told there was no pulse and that's why they were applying CPR. There was no blood pressure, there was no pulse. So they artificially kept him alive. The doctor back at the hospital, the first one to treat him, said effectively he thought this young boy was brain dead but they felt compelled to try to revive him and in fact they did. There's an ethical question there, but they're still holding out the hope that this young boy will survive, that he will be fully conscious, that he will be a functioning human being. I think it's a little too early to raise ethical questions. They are hopeful not only that they have saved this boy, but that this boy will have a productive and happy life. That is the hope they have, but at the same time, they are being realistic. Medically, this is very, very unusual.

Q: What is the scene like, at the hospital? Are there still a lot of media?

There have been a lot of media here for the first two or three days, but I think most of the media were attracted to this story because of the unusual circumstances -- the dramatic rescue by the uncle, the seizing of shark out of the water, and the prying open of the shark's mouth and the extracting of the arm out of the shark's gullet. Those were the elements that attracted the media initially and since then, I'd say over the last 24 hours, the tone here at the hospital has gotten a little more somber because this is no longer a story about a dramatic rescue or a shark attack. It's about a little boy and trying to save his life. There's a good chance that even if his life is saved, he will have suffered some serious damage.

Q: How is his family doing?

Cabell: They're standing vigil outside and inside the boy's room, virtually the entire day. Last night was the first night they apparently got some good rest, doctors have confirmed. [The] grandparents have been here as well. The uncle and aunt who were so heroic in their rescue of the boy, they have left town, they may have come back since. The media have left them alone, because, as you might understand, none of the young boy's family want to talk to the media at this point. This young child in dire jeopardy and this is not a time to talk about a shark attack. They are waiting for their boy to become conscious and they are praying for him.







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