FAMILY members keeping close bedside watch on boy whose arm was bitten off by shark

Wednesday, July 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ Family members of the 8-year-old boy who survived a shark attack take turns standing at his bedside in an intensive care room crammed with machines helping him fight for life.

Jessie Arbogast remained in a coma in critical but stable condition Tuesday at Scared Heart Children's Hospital where doctors say he likely suffered brain injury although they were unsure to what extent.

``In speaking with the family, it is a time in their life where really time has stopped,'' said Sister Jean Rhoads, vice president for mission services with the Sacred Heart Health System. ``They are very focused and centered on Jessie's condition and care.''

Surgeons reattached the boy's right arm after it was bitten off by the 7-foot bull shark Friday while he was wading in knee-deep water on a Florida Panhandle beach. The boy's uncle and another beachgoer then wrestled the shark to shore, where a ranger shot it and pried its jaw open while a firefighter pulled the arm out of the shark's gullet.

The boy also suffered a severe leg wound and was nearly drained of blood, which harmed virtually every organ in his body and raised the possibility of brain damage.

His parents, David and Claire Arbogast, of Ocean Springs, Miss., are most often at Jessie's side, but he also has received visits from other members of a large extended family, Rhoads said.

``They talk frequently to him, try to make sure he is comfortable ... anything to keep Jessie realizing they are there,'' Rhoads said.

But doctors were unsure of what, if anything, Jessie can comprehend although they say he appears to have avoided potentially fatal brain swelling and does not seem to be worsening.

``He likely has suffered a brain injury and that very well could be significant for him,'' said Dr. Tim Livingston, a pediatric neurologist. ``We do have evidence that his brain is not functioning correctly.''

Doctors had not used the term coma before Tuesday, although the boy has been in critical condition since the attack. Livingston said tests showed brain activity akin to deep sleep or a light coma.