One Ohio State student’s visit to Belize over spring break ended with a shark bite, but she said some people are trying to get her to stay quiet.
Monika Wanis, a fourth-year in anthropology and psychology, said a shark bit her on her toe during a trip to Belize with Buck-I-Serv to give out shoes with an organization called One World Running. She’s recovering from the incident, but she said she believes officials from Buck-I-Serv are more concerned with protecting their name and reputation than they are about her well-being.
“In the email that they sent me, basically the first sentence said, ‘How are you feeling, I hope you got medical care,’ and then the remainder of the email said, ‘I hope you consider posting positive things on Facebook about One World Running and Buck-I-Serv because they do not want bad publicity and press.’ I didn’t put anything negative about Buck-I-Serv or One World Running on Facebook because it’s not their fault,” Wanis said. “I just want people to realize that they’re not out to make sure that I’m safe, they’re out to make sure that their name doesn’t get a bad rep.”
The bite took place on a snorkeling excursion.
Wanis had geared up and boarded one of the two boats taking the group out for snorkeling on an island called Caye Caulker. The group was heading out to a part of the Caribbean Sea with stingrays and nurse sharks.
Prior to getting into the water, Wanis said the instructors threw buckets of fish into the water because nurse sharks eat shrimp and fish. Wanis and another one of her classmates then asked the instructor if anyone had ever been injured on this type of snorkeling excursion before and he assured them that they had not.
After Wanis had been in the water for about two minutes, she said she asked the instructor if she could touch any of the sharks or stingrays.
“He said, ‘Yeah absolutely, they don’t harm you,’ and then went to go get me a stingray,” Wanis said. “When he was lifting up the stingray, I felt the shark bite me.”
Wanis immediately swam to the instructor and said she had been bitten; she said he then pushed her toward the boat yelling to her to get out of the water. Another instructor lifted her up to the boat and they immediately headed back to shore. The shark had bitten a toe on her right foot.
One of Wanis’ advisers on the trip wrapped her toe in a towel to prevent more bleeding.
However, there was still one problem when they got back to land.
“When we got back to shore there was a guy there that said there was no nurse, and then the instructor told me there was no hospital or doctors on the island,” Wanis said.
One of the advisers on the trip ran to get another adviser who had been a nurse for 30 years from One World Running, who was also on a mission trip there, while Wanis stayed back on the boat with the instructor. To distract herself from the pain, Wanis said she tried to strike up a conversation. During this conversation she found out the instructor had also been bitten by one of the sharks as he spread apart his toes to show her the scar.
Wanis’ adviser returned to the boat and carried her into a golf cart that they rode to the nurse’s clinic.
“The clinic was just a room with nothing in it but like a little bed,” Wanis said.
Once in the clinic, Wanis said everyone was trying to convince her that she had only stepped on a shell. Wanis argued that it could not have been, and that the instructor had been bitten by one of the sharks as well.
Wanis said that at the time of the incident she could feel her leg being jerked back.
Wanis said she was not able to get stitches at the clinic.
“They just squeezed the blood out, cleaned it with saline solution and they used Dermabond on it. They glued it together and wrapped it up still bleeding,” Wanis said. “They gave me ibuprofen 800 and amoxicillin and I ended up taking ibuprofen 800 every five to six hours because the pain was really, really bad.”
Wanis returned to the beach and waited for the other students to come back from the snorkeling trip. When they returned, Wanis said one student told her that the instructor said he had seen the shark bite her.
“One of the girls said, ‘No after you left the snorkeling instructor said that he told everyone it was a shell as soon as it happened because he didn’t want everyone to panic and try to get in one boat.’ Then when everyone got in both boats he told them it was indeed a shark,” Wanis said
Jane Marshall, a first-year in biology, and Erin Osborne, a second-year in public health and German, were both on the trip. Marshall said a few of them knew it was a shark bite regardless of what the instructor had initially told them about the shell.
“I was there when they told the people it was just a shell, but there was about four of us who knew it was a shark bite so we hopped back in the boat. The people in the water were told it was a shell but later were told the truth when they were back in the boat,” Marshall said.
Osborne also recalled the instructor telling them it was a shark bite.
“Once everyone was safe on board he told us that she really did get bit by a shark and that he saw it because her feet were not on the ground, and it wasn’t a stingray because they don’t bite so she wouldn’t have been bleeding the way she was,” Osborne said in an email. “So he clearly said she got bit by a nursing shark. He also said he got bit in the same place by a shark and has the scar to prove it on his foot.”
Later that night, Wanis said her toe was still bleeding profusely. At one point she said her foot was sitting in a pool of blood in her flip-flop.
Wanis described the pain she was in the night of the accident as excruciating, and the ibuprofen was not enough to ease it.
After a long trip home, complete with wheelchair assistance in the airport, Wanis said she finally made it to an urgent care facility, but she was still not able to get stitches since it was too long after the injury. A lack of stitches could cause bad scarring.
On Wednesday, five days after the accident, Wanis said she was still in a lot of pain and her toe continued to bleed.
Wanis said she is worried about her mental health as well.
“Buck-I-Serv … (officials) are still trying to convince me that it was (a) shell,” Wanis said. “It’s just sort of irritating that they are trying to cover it up.”
This was not the first Buck-I-Serv trip Wanis has been on, however she said it would most definitely be her last.
Representatives from Buck-I-Serv deferred comment to Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs who said the snorkeling was a voluntary activity and not part of the service trip. He also said the advisers are trained to handle these types of situations.
“Advisers on trips go through specific training on how to handle emergencies. The sort of things that they are trained in is knowing the steps and protocols specific to each location for how to access medical care,” Isaacs said. “It was the training that allowed them to get her prompt medical care after the incident. They know what is available, where it is available and how to make sure that we get access to that care.”
Wanis said she was aware of the waiver she signed stating that she would be responsible for what happens to her on the trip, but she was not aware that the locations she would be visiting did not have a hospital, doctors or what she considers to be adequate medical care.
“We are all grateful that her injury was not any worse,” Isaacs said. “Student safety is paramount.”
Wanis has been back on campus since Wednesday and has been put in a protective wrap and shoe to protect the bite, but she said is still not able to put any pressure on the injured toe.