San Diego mom details how she fought off great white shark

Posted at 6:37 PM, Jul 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-28 10:25:40-04

A San Diego woman attacked by a great white shark off San Onofre State Beach earlier this year shared her story of survival with ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday.

On April 29, Leeanne Ericson and her boyfriend Dusty Phillips hit the water on what they described as a "beautiful day." The couple was less than 100 yards from shore when something bumped Phillips' surfboard, which Ericson was on top of after swimming.

They thought a seal had struck the board, but moments later, Ericson found herself off the board and face-to-face with a shark.

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Ericson, of Vista, told GMA, "I felt it grab me and pull me down ... I just remember thinking of my kids, him (Phillips) ..."

Ericson struggled to free herself, so she fought back by hitting the shark and going after its eyes. She described attacking the shark's eyes as "… digging out a cup of Jell-O."

The shark eventually let Ericson go, but the damage was done. Christine McKnerney Leidle, Ericson's mother, said the shark "tore her right back leg from her glute to her knee."

"I thought that was it for her. She was a completely gray color that looked like she was already dead," Phillips told GMA.

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Several swimmers and surfers helped Phillips and Ericson back to shore.

Leidle said a man on shore and another who had just completed his EMT training used a surfboard leash as a tourniquet. Leidle believes that and the quick response by first responders helped keep her daughter alive.

"If any one of us weren't there I think it would have been so much harder," explained Thomas Williams, one of the several witnesses who helped pull Ericson ashore.

Williams helped his friend Hunter Robinson tie the tourniquet to help stop the heavy bleeding.

"One of our other friends lifted up her hip and slid it underneath," Williams said. "I just tied it off and held it in place until we got to shore."

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Ericson was airlifted to the hospital, where she underwent numerous surgeries during a nine-week period.

However, after all of the surgeries and other procedures, Ericson has made considerable progress in her recovery.

Ericson, a mother of three, told GMA that the medical care due to the attack has left her and her family in a financial bind despite having insurance.

She said, "My antibiotics alone were like $36,000."

Ericson's family set up a GoFundMe account to help with medical bills. As of Friday morning, $95,000 has been donated, with a target goal of $200,000.

RELATED: Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson 'fighting for her life'

Ericson told GMA she's not quite ready to get back into the water, but the incident has brought her and Phillips closer.

"He saved my life," she said.