COURTESY PHOTO / GREG BERRY
Deborah Berry showed off her bandaged neck yesterday following a fish attack on Thursday in which a needlefish stabbed her while she was swimming in West Hawaii.
Fish goes for the throat
HILO » Greg Berry and his wife, Debbie, were treading water at "Beach 69" in West Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day when a foot-long needlefish speared Debbie in the neck.
"Beautiful Day. Water all sparkly," Debbie later wrote in an e-mail. "We were about 50 feet out, and out of the corner of Greg's eye, he sees a fish bopping along the top of the water.
"Silvery, about a foot long, known as the aha or happy fish over here. All of a sudden he runs into my neck.
"What the heck? First it's kinda funny. Then Gb (Greg) looks at me and all this blood is rushing out."
It happened in a single second, Greg Berry told the Star-Bulletin. He saw the fish "skipping" across the water for about 10 feet, hit Debbie in the neck, pull back and swim away leaving a gush of blood.
At first, Debbie thought a snorkeler bumped her.
The site just south of Hapuna Beach, formally known as Waialea Bay, was packed with people, Greg said. No one seemed to notice.
The couple swam to the beach, Debbie still gushing blood.
"One gentleman came up and offered to help," Greg said. "No, I think we're OK," Greg answered as he wrapped Debbie's neck in a T-shirt.
Despite the bleeding, Debbie, who is "over 50," retained her strength, Greg said.
The couple drove to the emergency room at North Hawaii Community Hospital, 12 miles uphill in Waimea.
Debbie Berry said in the e-mail, "After a panicked rush to shore, rush to emergency. Turns out he went in one side and penetrated all the way through out the other side with his oh soooo long snout. (Do fishes have snouts?) Couldn't squeeze his body through, so wiggled back out the entry side. Just missed the carotid artery and trachea," she wrote.
"Holy happy fish! So now I look like someone tried to slit my throat. I got stabbed by a fish. Only in Hawaii," she wrote.
Greg said the entry wound was about an inch long. There was an inch of undamaged skin. Then there was another 1-inch gash were the fish tried to exit.
"It looks very scary," he said. He did not know how many stitches the doctors used during the hour and a half the couple was at the hospital.
"I'd give them 10 stars for their treatment," he said.
The couple drove home to their fruit and flower farm near Hakalau on the Hilo side of the island. They skipped Thanksgiving dinner, which they now plan to have next week.
Debbie's neck is stiff and sore, Greg said. "It was an amazing experience," he said.
Debbie was lucky in a way. While swimming at night on July 21, 2005, at Kahana Bay on Oahu, Tonga "Papio" Loumoli, 19, got hit in the belly by a 4-foot crocodile needlefish, identified by a tooth the fish left behind. Loumoli had 45 stitches and spent a week in the Queen's Medical Center.