RUSKIN, Fla. (WFLA) – A woman from Tampa Bay is recovering after being impaled by a venomous stingray that buried its barb inches into her back, just missing her lungs.
Kristie Cataffo-O’Brien said she and her husband visited Bahia Beach in Ruskin, Florida, to grab lunch and hang out in the water. They were knee-deep when the barb of a stingray impaled her.
“He was like, ‘Stay still, don’t move,’” Cataffo-O’Brien told Nexstar’s WFLA. “He was kind of holding my weight and the stingray’s weight in the water.”
Cataffo-O’Brien described the pain as excruciating.
“I felt something sting me right away. I felt like it was a jellyfish maybe or something, but it was super, super painful,” said Cataffo-O’Brien. “I started to stand up, and that’s when he was like, ‘No, don’t move at all, there’s a stingray and it’s on you.'”
Cataffo-O’Brien said she leaned back into the water. Her husband kept her calm.
“The stingray was moving and flopping around and anytime a wave, or anything moved, the barb — I could feel the barb just jabbing into my back,” she said.
Cataffo-O’Brien said it took 45 minutes for first responders to arrive after 911 was called. She was then rushed to the hospital, where doctors worked to surgically remove the barb.
It was ultimately determined the barb was about three centimeters away from piercing her lung — a thought that still haunts her.
“We’re kind of at the mercy of the marine life,” she told WFLA. “This is their territory, it’s not our territory. I lived in Florida for a very long time. You never think anything like that can happen, and I’m still in shock.”
Cataffo-O’Brien is now on medication to fight off the stingray’s venom and any potential infection. Her family set up a GoFundMe to help her with medical expenses while she takes time off work to recover.