No one else did, and Kieffer was no exception: both main bones in his arm were broken, and a large bite had been taken out of the back of his forearm. Following the attack, the arm essentially dangled from whatever muscle remained.
“I knew going in that I was going to lose my arm,” he says. The doctors who initially treated him were equally pessimistic about his chances.
Kieffer returned to active duty with the Tavares Fire Department in April, just eight months after the attack, thanks to the specific type of damage the gator did to his arm, as well as talented surgeons and hard work in rehab.
Dr. Karan Desai, the hand and upper extremity surgeon who treated him at Orlando Regional Medical Center, explained that he was fortunate that the gator bit him where it did, sparing nerves, muscles, and tendons that were critical to his recovery.
“I still have a long way to go before I’m back to full fitness,” said Kieffer, 42, of Grand Island, Fla. “Sometimes I don’t even realise I have a disability or an injury.”
Kieffer was hunting alligators with some friends at Lake Jesup in August 2020 when the incident occurred.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that the 16,000-acre body of water near Sanford, Fla., is home to 13,000 gators. Only the mighty Lake Okeechobee has more alligators than the rest of the state.
Kieffer explained that the men snagged the reptile with a 12-foot-long snatch line and then stuck it with two harpoons to bring it closer to the boat.
They were unfortunate to be in shallow water, which gave the gator some leverage to fight back.
A sudden attack
“He was able to push himself off the bottom and into the boat,” Kieffer said. “I was holding onto a couple of ropes that were attached to the harpoons we used to catch the alligator. I was standing in the boat, holding onto the ropes, when he came back and snapped, grabbing my arm.”
Kieffer’s friends sprang into action, one grabbing his pants and the other inserting a metal pole into the gator’s mouth to pry it open.
The alligator “He shook his head once, and my body was lifted 6 to 8 inches out of the boat. I could hear the skin rip and the bones snap at that point “Kieffer explained.
The attack ended on the terms of the gator. “He just let go and went back in,” Kieffer explained. “We cut the lines and went in search of assistance.”
Desai’s first day on call as an attending physician at Orlando Regional Medical Center happened to be today. Desai, who had just returned from medical school in New York, thought someone was joking when another doctor summoned him to treat Kieffer.