A firefighter near Tampa is sharing his wild story of surviving an attack by an alligator in early August.
Juan Carlos la Verde, who goes by "JC Defeats," told NBC affiliate WFLA-TV he was swimming in Lake Thonotossa while shooting an instructional video for his outdoor adventure company DefeatX when he noticed the alligator making a beeline toward him.
“I felt the equivalent of a telephone pole hit my face and then because of my stroke, I felt the scales, then I felt the teeth, so I knew what I was in,” he said.
La Verde said his entire head and torso were inside the 12-foot gator's mouth. The reptile bit down on him and La Verde heard a "popping sound, then instinct took over," he wrote in a Facebook recounting the attack.
"God gave me the strength and ability to instantly grab both the upper and lower part of the jaw," he wrote. "I’m not the most flexible person normally, but on this day, somehow I was able grab the tip of her snout and pull. She chomped down again and I felt teeth pierce my skull."
“It was just one large bite,” he told the news outlet. “I heard my jaw snap and I just continued swimming.”
La Verde and the animal rolled in the water, doing a "full 360" before the alligator let him go and he swam to a nearby dock. He wrote that after pulling himself up to safety, the adrenaline wore off and "unbearable" pain took over.
La Verde, who is a member of the Oldsmar Fire Department and a U.S. Air Force veteran, spent 10 days in the hospital after undergoing face and jaw reconstruction surgery and a craniotomy, with doctors removing part of his right temporal lobe that had been pierced by a fractured bone from his cracked skull.
And while he'll need several more surgeries on his long road to recovery, La Verde is still optimistic about his future.
“The story is about a miracle and also a call to action,” he said. “Find the joy, however that looks like to you, that’s my challenge to you find it.”
And besides living to tell the story of the attack, La Verde's partner also captured drone video of the encounter. La Verde's company DefeatX shared the overhead footage on its YouTube account.