Our continuing series "Improving Your Odds" provides an update on a story this summer of a deadly shark attack that has become a battle for recovery on two fronts for one young woman.
It's one thing to endure the shock and trauma of a savage shark attack, but for a 23-year-old Russian immigrant and graduate student from Virginia, the tragedy was compounded by the loss of her fiance.
At the tail end of a summer dominated by news of shark attacks all along the eastern seaboard, a shark struck again on Labor Day from beneath murky waters off the coast of North Carolina.
"It attacked me at least six times. It attacked Sergei three times at least, says Natalia Slobodskaya. She and her fiance, Sergei Zaloukaev, were both badly wounded by the shark as they struggled toward the safety of the shore. They barely made it.
"It was just a race for survival as we were swimming to the shore," she says. "The shark was circling around us and once in a while I felt it touching my leg or my arm and I was pushing it away."
"It was aiming for my arm and somehow I pushed it away so it just got part of my wrist and finger and then I felt it under me and felt something was wrong with my leg," Slobodskaya says.
Natalia was airlifted to a hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. She had lost her left foot and most of her left buttock. She awoke to the news that Sergei had died from his wounds.
"It's very, very hard to lose the person you love the most. It was so difficult to return home and not to see him here," says Slobodskaya.
Natalia takes strength from her family and in the memory of her lost love.
"Every day is different. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I feel that Sergei is here right next to me, and I smile," she says. "I still feel he supports me. I still feel some sort of connection with him, and I feel like he's helping me to go through this."
And despite her setbacks, Natalia is recovering quickly, determined to move on.
"Getting back to normal life is such a blessing," says Slobodskaya. "I feel fine at home. I'm recovering very well and I feel progress every day. Every day I discover something new I can do."
She adds, "It's difficult. It's challenging. But it's still a lot of fun."
Natalia underwent four surgeries while in hospital. She still has a way to go before she is back to her usual strength, but she should make a full recovery and be able to get around just fine with the help of her prosthetic foot.
What can you do to improve your odds of avoiding a shark attack?
Don't go swimming at dawn or dusk when sharks are feeding. Don't go swimming with an open wound. If you see a shark try to avoid wild, thrashing movements that might resemble a creature in distress.
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