Friday, March 29, 2002

Kauai youth up and
moving after shark fight

Doctors are optimistic about Hoku Aki's
ability to bounce back and enjoy life again

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Three days after being attacked by a shark and losing his leg, Hoku Aki was able to walk 150 yards using a walker, his doctors said yesterday.

Dr. David Rovinsky, the orthopedic surgeon who first treated Aki at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihue Monday afternoon, said several things saved the 17-year-old's life after a tiger shark attacked him while he was bodyboarding 150 feet off Brennecke's in Poipu.

"If Hoku had any less presence of mind," said Rovinsky, "or was any less fit, he wouldn't have survived the initial attack. He was able to fight off the shark and make it to shore which is a testament to his will, his courage and his fitness."

Rovinsky said Aki's quick reaction in responding to the attack by lashing out and gouging the shark's eye also saved his life.

Rovinsky read a message from Aki to his friends on Kauai: "Hi, miss everybody, can't wait for come home."

The Kauai surgeon also credited the quick thinking of Nancy Roberts, a vacationing nurse from Colorado, who rendered first aid when Aki made it to shore and applied a tourniquet to his left leg and prevented him from losing a lot of blood.

The biggest danger shark attack victims face is dying either by losing too much blood or drowning, Rovinsky said.

Aki was rushed to Wilcox, where doctors operated on him within 15 minutes after he was taken to the operating room. There Rovinsky performed one of two amputations that Aki has had to undergo to save his life.

Aki had lost his left foot and much of his calf muscles after the shark tore into him on two occasions.

After Aki was transferred to Queen's Medical Center, further examination noted that fitting a proper prothesis device was not possible without his calf muscles, said Dr. Byron Izuka, another orthopedic surgeon.

On Tuesday, Izuka had to perform another amputation above the knee.

"What is important about doing this definitive procedure quickly," Rovinsky said, "is that it will allow Hoku to get about and around and start forward with his life, which is critical."

The two doctors at yesterday's news conference at Queen's Hospital said that Shriners Hospital has agreed to try to fit Aki with a prosthesis "as quickly as possible."

Rovinsky said Aki "will be able to do anything that he wants to do. He is a very determined and courageous young man."

With a well-fitting prosthesis, Rovinsky said Aki, who is a member of Kauai High School's track team and a member of Tahitian halau, will be able to run and participate in any activity he wishes.

Rovinsky said he has seen numerous similar orthopedic traumatic injuries when he was performing his surgical residency at San Francisco General Hospital, many of them young motorcycle riders.

In one case a police officer who lost his leg like Aki after a gunshot wound was able to return to duty and "chase bad guys," Rovinsky said.

Randy Honebrink, spokesman for the state shark task force, said he is still waiting for a report from the pathologist at Wilcox whom he asked to look for tooth fragments from Aki's leg to try to pinpoint the type of shark which attacked the Kauai youth.

He assumes it was a tiger shark based "on the nature of the wound," but is still unable to say how big it was.

This was the second attack in Hawaiian waters this year -- a California man reported being bitten by a shark about 100 yards off a west Maui beach on New Year's Day. Honebrink said Hawaii averages three or four shark attacks a year.

Examining the records over the past five decades, Honebrink said, shark attacks seem to take place more during winter.

Although Kauai's south shore beach has been reopened, Honebrink recommended that swimmers stay close to shore where there are other people and lifeguards nearby.

"Whenever people get bitten by a shark, it's a very unfortunate situation and it reminds us that sharks are out there," Honebrink said, "and that is their environment. We don't like to think of it that way, but when you go out into the ocean, it really is a wilderness experience. There are things out there that can hurt you and sharks are one of them."

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