Eric Merda got lost in the woods at the Lake Manatee Fish Camp in Myakka City on July 17. As he walked in the park about 50 miles south of Tampa Bay, he encountered a lake. Instead of walking around the lake, he decided to swim across.
“I look over and there’s a gator on my righthand side so I went to swim, and she got my forearm so I grabbed her like this, she was trying to roll, but she snapped her head, so my arm went backwards like this completely,” Merda explained.
The 43-year-old Florida man said he was fighting for his life as the 7-foot-long alligator dragged him underwater three times.
“She’s already got my arm, so when we came up the third time, she finally did her death roll and took off with my arm,” he said.
Merda described the excruciating situation, “Bones poking out, muscles, if I try to move my fingers, you could see it twitching.”
Merda said he was in tremendous pain all three days that he was lost.
“I was screaming at the top of my lungs,” he said.
Merda said he couldn’t see anything and it took three days for him to find his way out of the swamp.
“I felt like I was walking in circles, I didn’t know,” he said. “So I followed the sun and power lines, stuff I could see.”
Merda recalled the moment that he found help. He told a man, “I said a gator got my arm, he said, ‘holy smokes man!'”
He was airlifted to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where doctors amputated what was left of the arm.
He told himself, “There’s no way that this is real. My arm is gone. I don’t have an arm anymore. There’s no way. I have to be dreaming or something.”
‘Gator got my arm’: Man survives 3 days lost in the woods after alligator attack
However, Merda sees a silver lining to his traumatic experience.
“I came out the swamp, naked, with one arm,” Merda told WFLA. “I was reborn for a reason, and I believe that is to motivate people.”
He said he now has a new mission in life and he plans to use the near-death experience to become a motivational speaker.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife said an alligator trapper removed a 6-foot and a 9-foot gator from the lake four days after the attack.
Merda has an important message, “Do not feed the gators, and you guys know who you are, throwing rocks at them. I’ve seen it on the job sites, leave them gators alone.”
Also this week, a 77-year-old woman was attacked by an alligator in nearby Bradenton. The woman was taken to the hospital to be treated for her injuries from the alligator attack.
There have been six serious alligator attacks in the Tampa Bay area since March. Three of the incidents were fatal.
Sarasota man lost for three days in Lake Manatee after losing his arm in gator attack in July