- Lyudmila Emag was one of two shark bites victims to be treated at a Long Island hospital on July 4.
- Dr. Nadia Baranchuk, who had never dealt with a shark bite before, treated both of them.
- It may be part of a new normal as sharks have returned to waters off of New York.
Lyudmila Emag was taking her last dip of the day on the Fourth of July with two friends when she felt something clamp down on her thigh.
The 47-year-old nurse practitioner was swimming about 20 yards off the shore of Fire Island, a thin barrier island just south of Long Island in New York, in water that was deep enough she could no longer feel the bottom.
“I screamed to my friends, ‘Something is biting me!'” she told Insider, adding, “I didn’t know it was a shark.”
Emag said she felt pressure, like being caught in a trap, but not sharp pain. She reached down to push off the thing that had grabbed her. After several seconds the shark released and she was able to swim to shore. The bites on her leg later showed a line where the shark’s teeth had dragged on her skin before it released her from its jaws.
It wasn’t until she got out of the water that her friends realized she had been bitten by a shark. Emag said she’s the kind of person that shouts when she sees a mouse, so even though her friends had seen a fin and tail near her, they thought it might have been a dolphin that just spooked her. They estimated the shark that bit her was around four to five feet long.
Emag, who is a nurse practitioner, was transported by police ferry and then ambulance to South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, where she was treated by Dr. Nadia Baranchuk.
Emag was the second patient with a shark bite that Baranchuk treated that day.
There were only 57 unprovoked shark bites documented worldwide in all of 2022, primarily in Florida, so for a New York hospital — let alone the same doctor — to treat two in a single day is surprising. But with sharks returning to Long Island’s waters, prompting drone patrols and helicopter monitoring, treating shark bites may become part of the new normal.
Shark bite patients may become more normal in New York hospitals
To be clear, the chances of getting bit by a shark are still incredibly low. But in New York, at least, they are increasing. Before last year, only 12 unprovoked shark bites had ever been reported in New York state, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File. But in 2022 alone, there were eight. And this year, in just a couple of days over the Fourth of July holiday, there were five reported bites.
Baranchuk, who has practiced emergency medicine at South Shore for seven years, told Insider she had never treated a shark bite before July 4. “Are you sure it’s a shark bite and not a dog bite?” she remembered thinking when she read the notes on the first patient.
That patient had been bitten on their hand and did not have life-threatening injuries. But what was believed to be a piece of a shark’s tooth did have to be removed from their hand. About an hour after treating the first shark bite patient of her career, Baranchuk was treating her second: Emag, who had deep bite wounds on her thigh that were also not life-threatening.
Treating shark bites is similar in some ways to treating bites from any animal, which involves a risk of infection. But unlike dogs or cats, the sheer size of sharks means there’s greater “potential for someone to come in with massive tissue loss,” Dr. Sanjey Gupta, the chair of emergency medicine at South Shore, told Insider.
Gupta said his department saw one confirmed shark bite patient in all of 2022. Before that, the most recent one was about four years ago. Last year, when shark sightings started ramping up off Long Island, Gupta decided to include an extreme shark bite scenario as part of a training day for doctors.
“I think for us it’s a matter of reorienting and thinking about dealing with bites and the tissue injury that comes with that,” Gupta said. “But I think it’s one of those things that’s potentially going to become part of our norm now.”
Sharing the water
Emag said about two weeks after the shark bite, her wounds were about 80% healed. The deepest tooth wound was still there.
But the shark bite has not deterred her from swimming at the beach in the future, something she does often in the summer at Brighton Beach, not too far from her home in Brooklyn.
“It’s like when we hike: We know there are bears in the mountains, but we still go hiking,” she said.
Still, she does plan to be a bit more careful, by doing things like avoiding murky water or areas where a lot of bait fish are present.
Gupta agreed that sharks are now on the mind of many Long Island swimmers, who are learning how to share these spaces with sharks. While he knows shark bites are still rare, he said it is comforting that officials are prioritizing safety by monitoring for sharks and temporarily closing down beaches as needed.
He has also learned the kind of waters and swimming situations to avoid in order to minimize the risk of a shark bite, something he said he would never have thought about even a year and a half ago.
“I never really thought about what a shark-infested water might look like,” he said. “Now it’s one of those things you have to think about.”
Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.