A Florida firefighter is recovering in a hospital a week after he was bitten on the face by an alligator while swimming in a lake, officials and loved ones said.
Juan Carlos La Verde, 34, a US Air Force veteran currently serving as a firefighter and paramedic with Oldsmar Fire Rescue, had been preparing for an athletic competition when he was attacked in Lake Thonotosassa on Aug. 3, People Magazine reported.
He suffered severe injuries to his head and face, according to the description of a GoFundMe campaign that was started by a friend, Kenney Ceron.
Despite the wounds inflicted by the large reptile, La Verde was able to escape its jaws, swim ashore and call the sheriff’s office for help, according to the fundraiser.
He was then rushed to Tampa General Hospital, where he underwent a six-hour surgery to repair the damage to his skull and jaw, after which he was transferred to the ICU.
In an update posted on Tuesday, La Verde’s friend, Ceron, revealed that the firefighter’s condition has been on the mend, but he has a long way to go until full recovery.
“He is able to talk and communicate now through his trach and is breathing on his own,” he wrote. “He is still having some pain which is expected.”
Ceron added that La Verde’s mouth is “wired shut” and will remain so for at least the next couple of weeks, and he will require another surgery in the future to replace a plate in his head.
“The journey will be long but he is a fighter and will come out strong!” the friend said.
The initial GoFundMe statement read that La Verde, who is married, has dedicated his life to helping others and has been involved in multiple charities. As a triathlete, he has been taking part in competitions to raise money for cardiology and leukemia nonprofits.
Ceron said that La Verde had recently launched his own organization — Defeat X — that encourages people to engage in exercise and healthy outdoor activities as a way of overcoming personal struggles.
According to Ceron, La Verde was swimming in the lake last week to get ready for a Defeat X race and was filming a promotional video for it when the alligator struck.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sent a trapper to the lake after the attack and launched an investigation.