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Real Life

EXCLUSIVE: Jackson’s girlfriend Maddie came to his rescue after he was bitten by a shark

A day on the water turned into a nightmare for the couple after Jackson was bitten by a bull shark.

By Brigid Auchettl
A relaxed day on the water quickly turned into a nightmare for Broome local Jackson Howson when he was mauled by a shark in March.
The 27-year-old was spearfishing near Coral Bay, north of Perth, with his partner Maddie Naylor-Pratt when the two-metre bull shark attacked.
Enticed by speared fish, the predator lunged forward in the murky water, missing the fish and ripping a 20cm bite wound into Jackson's calf.
"I looked down and saw the shark grabbing me… then the shock kicked in," says Jackson, who admits he was "a bit worried" when the shark began to shake him in its jaws.
"You're just hoping it's going to release you, and when it does that you're not too injured."
Fighting for his life, the experienced deckhand and divemaster used his speargun to hit the shark away.
"It held me and shook me around for a few seconds… then it just let go," Jackson recalls. "I got so lucky."
With the shark still circling and blood flooding the water, Maddie and Jackson made the nerve-racking 100-metre swim back to the boat.
"I was definitely concerned other sharks might get involved," says Jackson.
Jackson can't thank Maddie enough for saving his life. Supplied
"I was scanning the water frantically hoping they wouldn't chow into the rest of my leg."
Maddie agrees she couldn't get to the boat quick enough. "I remember thinking, 'We need to get out of the water really fast,'" she says.
"Unfortunately, Jackson was swimming a little slower because his calf wasn't quite attached. I didn't realise how bad it was until I pulled him out of the water."
And while Jackson admits fighting off a shark sounds impressive, to him the real hero of the day was Maddie.
After helping Jackson back into the boat, the 20-year-old paramedic student applied first aid, using their towels as a tourniquet to stem the bleeding.
Keeping her cool, Maddie navigated the 20km journey back to Coral Bay in the boat she had only just learned to drive that morning.
The shark left a giant bite mark then let go of the leg. Supplied
All the while she monitored Jackson's condition and radioed ahead for an ambulance.
And Jackson couldn't be prouder. "Once I saw how much blood there was it was a bit worrying," he recalls.
"I think a lot of people would have freaked out, but Maddie was so cool. I'm 100 per cent proud – she's definitely in the right job."
Arriving at the jetty, Maddie faced another challenge when she realised she didn't know how to park the boat.
Contemplating ramming the dinghy into shore, she was relieved when a nearby fisherman spotted the couple and climbed aboard to help.
Back on land, Jackson was airlifted by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to Perth, where he underwent emergency surgery to repair the damage to his leg.
After six days in hospital, Jackson was well enough to go home. Supplied
For three hours, doctors at Perth's Hollywood Private Hospital worked to stitch Jackson's calf muscles back together.
"The main muscles in my calf were sliced in half," says Jackson, who spent six days recovering in hospital, with Maddie by his side.
"The fact it missed the nerve and the tendon… it could have been so much worse," he says.
While escaping the jaws of a shark would be enough to put most people off swimming in the ocean for good, Jackson can't wait to get back in the water.
The attack hasn't scared Jackson from the water. Supplied
Due to start eight weeks of physiotherapy to rebuild the strength in his calf, he's looking forward to launching his first catamaran business, Broome Tours, once he's on the path to recovery.
"I'll have some good shark stories to tell when I take people out on charter!" he laughs. "I can't wait to get back in the salt water – it's the main thing I do in my life."
For Maddie, who is due to finish her paramedicine course in 2022, the encounter has confirmed to her she's on the right path.
"I'll be mentioning it in my CV," she jokes. "It was good to know all my training helped, and I remembered the things I needed to.
"It's definitely bought us a lot closer together," Jackson adds, with a smile. "I'm lucky she was by my side."

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