TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa man is recovering after an alligator attacked him during a dive along the Myakka River.
With a bandage wrapped around his head, Jeffrey Heim replayed the tense moments on Monday, the same day he was discharged from Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
“I thought I got hit by a propeller; it hit me so fast,” Heim said. “It felt like a boat was going 50 mph.”
Heim said he encountered the alligator while looking for shark teeth in Venice. It all happened within seconds of entering the water
The alligator bit Heim on his head and hand, resulting in a skull fracture and 34 staples.
“Because of the bite force on those animals, he could have got me anywhere else and I would have died,” he said.
Heim is an advocate for marine life. The Tampa personal trainer hopes to one day turn his passion project — making shark teeth into jewelry with his company, shrkco — into a full-time profession.
With years of diving experience across Florida, Heim admits he should have known better.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, the mating season for alligators is in May and June, a time when they are more active and aggressive.
MORE: Alligator mating season is here — this is what you need to know
“Her environment, protecting her family,” Heim said. “That’s what those animals are bred to do, and I learned that the hard way. I’m lucky it wasn’t much worse.”
Heim calls it an act of God that he wasn’t killed on Sunday and remains thankful his recovery will only take a few weeks.
“I’ve never cried so much in my life,” Heim said. “And not from the pain, just from the realization of what I’ve gone through and how I was literally an inch away from death.”
This story was originally published by Ryan Smith on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa, Florida.