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Florida firefighter, paramedic in high spirits after fighting off alligator

alligator oldsmar attack.png
Posted at 11:40 AM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 17:03:56-04

TAMPA BAY, Fla.  — Sit down and talk to J.C. LaVerde, or J.C. Defeats, as his friends call him, and you'll immediately see his humble nature.

The former U.S. Air Force pararescueman and now Oldsmar, Florida, firefighter and paramedic knows how to handle stressful situations.

Little did he know he would be in the center of one.

"That thing was huge. That thing wasn't a little gator. It would be funny if it was a little gator," J.C. LaVerde said.

LaVerde was attacked by what he believes was a 12-foot alligator in Lake Thonotosassa on August 3.

He was shooting an instructional video for his company, DefeatX.

His friend unknowingly caught video footage of the attack on his drone from above.

"Later on, all he told me was he heard a scream, and then he didn't know what happened to me," LaVerde said.

LaVerde said almost instantly he knew what was happening.

"With the right stroke, all I felt was scales, teeth, and then right there, I'm like okay. So, what I think I did, what I felt like I did, was that I immediately tried to open its jaws because I knew I was in a gator," LaVerde. said.

Call it instinct, luck, or a higher intervention, but as the two struggled, LaVerde put his hand in the gator's mouth.

"When I felt the teeth, I immediately knew, and then as I opened it, I knew that I either turned it or it turned me, but it was confused just as I was confused, and then it just let go," LaVerde said.

He swam to the dock, hoisted himself up, and was driven to the hospital by a Good Samaritan.

All the while, he called 911 himself and explained what had happened.

"I am not going to put extra stress on somebody that is already driving a bloody man somewhere. Like if I can ease that load off of this lady," LaVerde said.

He underwent an emergency six-hour surgery. He'll need another surgery in the future and wears a helmet to protect the right side of his head.

LaVerde said he understands the lake is dangerous and usually takes precautionary steps before entering the waters, but that day he said he was in a hurry.

"This time, I was just in a rush to get it done just because I was so focused to get it done that I forgot my swim cap. I forgot my goggles," LaVerde said.

Through it all, he remains humble and grateful and has a message for those who may be struggling in their own lives.

"I am perfectly fine. I am actually even better because this gave me a new perspective, you know, and not many people get that," LaVerde said.

"Find your God. Find Him. It's silly. I get that that's scary, I do, but life is a scary place, so you can carry that load by yourself or have someone carry it for you," he said.

The family has created a GofundMe to help with expenses. To help, visit their GoFundMe here.

Vanessa Araiza at WFTS first reported this story.