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Woman Recounts Shark Attack in N.C.

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NORFOLK, VA — Natalia Slobodskaya wasn't wearing herglasses, so she couldn't see the marauder that killed her fianceand ripped off her left foot and a chunk of flesh from her buttock.

But she felt the shark's sandpapery skin - a sensation she stillrelives in nightmares more than a month after the Sept. 3 attackoff the coast of Avon, N.C.

"It was rough, it was disgusting, you know, the skin of abeast," Slobodskaya, 23, of Oakton in northern Virginia, told anews conference Tuesday at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Hersurgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Riblet, said her wounds are healing quicklyand he hopes to release her this week.

Slobodskaya recalled that she and her fiance, Sergei Zaloukaev,28, were swimming in about 6 feet of water, 30 feet offshore, whenshe felt something touch her from behind.

At first, the Moscow native thought one of her friends wastrying to scare her. Then something grabbed her from behind two orthree times, and Zaloukaev screamed, "It's a shark. Swim fast."

They struggled to swim back to shore, fighting off the shark asthey went. The shark attacked from behind, then darted betweenSlobodskaya's legs. "It was all around us," she said.

The attack lasted about two minutes. Slobodskaya said she didn'tfeel much pain at the time because she was in shock.

She learned from her mother a couple days later that Zaloukaevwas killed in the attack.

"One of my concerns is that he spent some of the energy he hadsaving me," Slobodskaya said.

"I loved him more than my life," she said tearfully. "I'mvery amazed that I still keep my life and not him. He was thekindest and most beautiful person I knew. He was very smart."

The couple was on vacation when they were attacked.

Two days earlier, David Peltier, 10, of Henrico County waskilled by a shark off Virginia Beach, about 130 miles up the coast.Slobodskaya said she wasn't aware of that attack when she wentswimming. She said she had heard of other attacks in Florida butthat she thought she had no reason to worry because they hadvacationed in Avon for four years in a row, with no problems.

Shark experts have said they think both fatal attacks involvedbull sharks, a species seldom seen off the Virginia and NorthCarolina coasts. In both cases, the victims were swimming at dusk,when sharks tend to feed.

Slobodskaya's main injury was a dished-out wound to the leftbuttock and hip about 12 inches in diameter and nearly to the bone.Her left foot was bitten off at the ankle, and she also lost thetip of the middle finger on her left hand.

Slobodskaya was in a wheelchair during the news conference buthas been fitted with an artificial foot and demonstrated how shecan walk reasonably well using crutches.

Trauma surgeon Jeffrey Riblet said that Slobodskaya, whom heinitially was surprised had even survived the attack, has recoveredwell. Much of the buttocks wound filled in with granulation tissue,a tissue of healing that is full of blood vessels and nutrients,Riblet said. He also covered the wound with skin harvested from herright thigh.

"Youth is a wonderful thing," Riblet said. "She was clearlywell-nourished, young, healthy."

Slobodskaya has had four surgeries and likely will need moreplastic surgery.

Slobodskaya, who has no health insurance, estimated that hermedical costs will exceed $200,000. Her friends have set up a Website,


, for donations to help pay thebills for the woman they affectionately call "Natasha."

Slobodskaya's hospital bill, not including separate doctors'bills, has reached more than $93,000, Sentara spokeswoman TinaFries said.

Slobodskaya said she wants to get her life back to normal, butshe knows it will take a long time. A doctoral student in humansciences at George Washington University, she is doing as much ofher coursework as possible from her hospital room. She hasn'tdecided whether she will go back to the town house she shared withher fiance or move in with her parents, who live in Gaithersburg,Md.

She said she still feels her fiance's presence.

"I feel our unity," she said. "He's helping me to pullthrough this."

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