Shark attack survivor questions care in Mexico

An Ontario nurse who needed surgery to reattach part of her leg after a shark attack in Mexico is questioning some of the care she received.

Sand, salt found in wounds after treatment at Mexican hospital

Nicole Moore was just grateful to be alive after Mexican doctors stitched up her bitten arm and sewed a chunk of thigh back on after a shark attack nearly killed her.

Nicole Moore returned to the Cancun beach where she was attacked by a shark. (CBC)

But the Orangeville, Ont., mother of two has since learned troubling details that led to questions about her medical care.

"I'm conflicted because I want to be happy with what I have," Moore told CBC's The Fifth Estate. "So part of me is saying … just let it rest. The other part of me that’s conflicting is: But if something went wrong, shouldn't that be righted?"

Moore was attacked by the shark on Jan. 31 while waist deep in the water during a Cancun vacation with friends.

The shark bit a 30-centimetre-long chunk out of Moore’s left thigh and also bit down on her arm. Moore managed to get the shark to let her arm go by punching it.

Once dragged to shore by a person on a Sea-Doo, Moore, a cardiac nurse, called for beachgoers to apply tourniquets to her so she wouldn't bleed to death.

Soon after, she was rushed to the emergency room. Following close behind was someone who had found the missing piece of Moore’s leg floating in the surf and put it on ice to try to save it.

The recovered piece of Moore’s leg was reattached and the gash in her arm was sewn up.

"Everybody was telling us that everything was progressing well," said Moore’s father, Alberto Baldassari, who rushed to Mexico after learning of the attack.

But what they didn't know was that infection was setting in.

Moore found own hospital bed

Adding to Moore’s troubles was the fact that she was forced to stay in the country.

Moore says her insurance company claimed she couldn't leave Mexico because the company couldn’t find an empty bed at a Canadian hospital.

"The one time that we need some help, it’s not there," says Baldassari. "It doesn't sound right. It makes you angry."

Moore and her father made their own arrangements to find a hospital bed back in Canada. Five days after the attack, Moore finally arrived in Toronto.


Have you survived a holiday from hell? Have your say.

She says doctors at Sunnybrook Hospital were shocked by what they saw: salt and sand were still in the wounds and the area around the chunk of thigh sewn back had been badly contaminated.

"The original bite was about 30 centimetres in length," says Moore. "It’s a little wider now because of all the surgery they’ve had to do to cut back."

Doctors were unsure whether they could save her left arm due to questionable care in Mexico, says Moore. The arm was later amputated.

Moore now wants to know whether the care in Mexico led to the amputation.

After trying unsuccessfully to get her Mexican medical records sent to Canada, Moore travelled back to the hospital last week to request them in person.

She obtained the medical records, but believes there might be information missing about her care. She’s in the process of translating the records from Spanish.

Resort adds shark patrols

Questions are also being raised about how the shark attack happened in a popular Cancun resort area just metres from the shore.
George Burgess, a shark expert, says resorts and tourists don't realize that sharks are often nearby. (CBC)

"I was shocked when I saw what happened because this is new in Cancun," said Carlos DaSilva, a manager at the Cancun resort where it happened, the Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe.

DaSilva says the attacks have prompted the resort to make changes, including having a security guard use binoculars from atop the building to check every half hour for sharks.

Boats also patrol the waters and DaSilva says the resort is considering further measures. Since the attack on Moore in late January, swimmers have been called out of the water three times due to a spotter seeing something in the water.

George Burgess, a shark expert brought to Mexico to advise resorts on better protecting their guests, says shark attacks are so rare that a person has a greater chance of winning the lottery.

But he adds that resorts and tourists don’t realize that sharks are often nearby.

"Anybody who’s been swimming in subtropical or tropical waters and does it more than a couple hours in their lifetime have probably come within 50 to 100 feet of a shark and just don’t know about it," said Burgess.

Burgess warns that periodic patrols are insufficient since sharks are mobile.

"The fact of the matter is that you have to have people looking in the water all the time," he said.

"We’ve seen this in virtually every place where I’ve been brought in for shark attacks. People cut corners."

Despite everything that potentially went wrong on Jan. 31 and Moore’s search for answers, she’s determined to move on with her life.

During last week’s visit to the resort where the attack happened, Moore thanked hotel staff for saving her life.

And she also faced a fear head-on: jumping into the same waters where she was attacked.

"It was really actually super incredible," she said after diving in. "I’m proud of myself."