Cocoa Beach boy is ready to go back to school after shark bite
A little over a month later suffer a shark bite, Jai Villamil is back in the water.
Although he has yet to be able to return to the ocean with his leg still recovering from the bite and four subsequent surgeries, the 12-year-old Cocoa Beach surfer has spent time in the pool as he rests and recovers.
âIt’s just nice to feel water on me again,â he said.
How a surf trip led to 4 surgeries
It all started about a month and a half ago, when Jai and his friends traveled to New Smyrna Beach on the evening of June 14th. His friends went into the water with Charley Hajek, also known as Gnarly Charley, a surf trainer who runs Gnarly. Charley’s Grom Surf Series.
Hajek recounted the incident, saying that as he and Jai walked further into the water after catching a few waves, Jai said he was bitten. When Jai showed Hajek his leg, an injury extended about four inches below Jai’s right knee to his Achilles tendon.
In the days that followed, Jai underwent four surgeries.
His wound was cauterized, the tendons were repaired and during his fourth surgery, a nerve was taken from his left leg and grafted to his right leg to repair six inches of damage from the shark bite.
Now, Jai is walking on a scooter and a boot has replaced his cast.
The shark bite is mostly closed and covered with scabs. His right foot – where the nerve damage is – still has no sensation on the lower part, but he expects to regain sensation within four to six months, he said.
Once this feeling comes back, he can start walking again.
In the meantime, physical therapy for her ankle and Achilles tendon will begin in about a month.
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What is school like this year
Jai’s mother, Jamerica Villamil, owns Mecca Beauty Bar and Salon. She has stayed at home with Jai since the bite, but will return to work when Jai returns to school.
“We are doing fine,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot better now that school is about to start. We are looking forward to this.”
I am looking forward to the start of football, a sport that fascinates him even more than surfing. The season begins around October, Villamil said, just under four months after Jai suffered the shark bite.
Jai and his mother are optimistic about his return in the future, whether it is this year or next year.
“He told me he was going to play football this year,” Villamil said. “Even though he’s in seventh grade, he could easily have been part of the JV team. So we’ll see.”
âI really want to play football again,â Jai said. “I will definitely do it.”
Jai also looks forward to being busy with friends every day. But he fears that his leg will hurt.
âI’m a little nervous,â he said. “I don’t want someone hitting my leg. If something happens, my mom won’t be able to do it very quickly.”
Villamil said Jai’s school goes to great lengths to make sure he has all the accommodations he needs to make the year easier, including getting him to and from class and making sure he felt comfortable in the classroom.
âEveryone has been really great,â she said.
Jai and her mother both spoke about the support not only from the school, but also from friends and the community.
Jai said his friends were able to spend a lot of time with him and were even able to help him in the middle of the night when they were having sleepovers, as mobility is always an issue for Jai.
Even strangers recognized Jai after the 12-year-old appeared in news articles and TV interviews last month. Jai said on his way to Catalyst, a surf shop in Cocoa Beach, an employee stopped to talk to him.
âHe asked me if I was the kid who got bitten,â Jai said. “So that was pretty cool.”
Community members donated to help support Jai through a GoFundMe set up by a friend, helping to raise approximately $ 39,500 of the $ 100,000 goal. In June, the Space Coast Freedivers held a silent auction at Time Out Sports Bar Plus to help raise funds for Jai’s surgeries.
Villamil said a number of professional surfers have been in contact with Jai since the shark bite.
Cocoa Beach surfing legend Kelly Slater and Hawaiian surfer Jamie O’Brien reached out to Jai and shared words of encouragement. Additionally, Trey Collins, Melbourne Beach surfer and founder of lifestyle brand GBED – Get Better Every Day – sent sweaters to Jai.
“I want to say a big thank you to everyone who supported and reached out, because if it hadn’t been for the people who reached out to him and talked to him, he would be completely bored,” said Villamil. “It means a lot. It keeps her spirits up and keep going.”