When An American Falls Victim to a Shark During “Shark Week” (and almost everyone misses the story)

Sixteen days ago, on Monday, July 24th, an American paddle boarder from Hawaii was the victim of a very bad unprovoked shark attack just 30 meters (100’) off the north coast of Ascension Island in English Bay.

I know, because Kawika Matsu is my son’s and my friend.

Many of Kawika’s friends world-wide though, don’t know any of what he has been through because there have been only 6 reports and none were in our national news! Ironically, the shark attack happened the day after Michael Phelps’ infamous race against the shark during Discovery's Shark Week.

American Kawika Matsu in Florida ICU on July 30, 2017. This photo appeared with the first Facebook post by Kawika, quoted in
American Kawika Matsu in Florida ICU on July 30, 2017. This photo appeared with the first Facebook post by Kawika, quoted in this report.

Kawika Matsu (pronounced Kaveeka), is 37-years old, from Volcano, Hawaii. He was on Ascension Island having just completed work as an HVAC contractor, repairing air conditioning systems for the U.S. military at the air base they share with the UK’s Royal Air Force. He was spending a few days vacationing before heading back to the U.S. to start his own contracting business, having just received his license a couple weeks prior.

The island is very remotely located below the Equator in the south Atlantic Ocean, between Brazil and Africa and is a territory of the United Kingdom.

Location of Ascension Island, between Brazil and Africa - a long distance from the Florida hospital in which Kawika Matsu is
Location of Ascension Island, between Brazil and Africa - a long distance from the Florida hospital in which Kawika Matsu is recovering.

The first “report” of the shark attack did not mention Kawika by name. It came by way of a “Public Notice by the Ascension Island Government” posted to the Ascension Island Conservation Facebook page on July 25th. The update below, appeared on July 26, 2017.

Updated information on the shark attack on Kawika Matsu, issued in a Public Notice by The Ascension Island Government on July
Updated information on the shark attack on Kawika Matsu, issued in a Public Notice by The Ascension Island Government on July 26, 2017.

The first actual news report appeared on July 27th in the U.K’s The Telegraph, the following day in TrackingSharks.com, then in GrindTV, St. Helena Online, Hawaii News Now/KNHL and KITV/Island TV Hawaii in the following days.

Kawika’s story was also told in the GoFundMe page set up to help with Kawika’s recovery expenses, by his oldest brother, Kai Matsu.

Kawika’s story:

Just prior to the attack, “Kawika noticed three sharks circling his board” according to his brother, Kai Matsu. A couple of the news reports say Kawika fell off his board - that’s inaccurate. Kawika has told several family members and friends, that his paddle board was rammed from underneath by what he believes was a Great White Shark. The jolt launched Kawika several feet into the air then into the water, while sending his paddle several yards out of reach.

As Kawika oriented himself in the water, he saw the shark fast approaching. "He said, 'This one, mom, was about 12-to14-feet and I'm pretty sure it was a great white,'" said Eileen Matsu in a phone interview with KITV. Kawika has described how the shark first ripped an area of flesh and muscle, “the size of a basketball”, from his upper right arm and torso, as Kawika landed the first punch to the shark’s nose. The shark left - temporarily.

"As he was trying to get back on the board, that's when [the shark] came back and got him on the right buttocks and chomped a big portion off and again, a little bit of the thigh," said Eileen Matsu”, to KITV.

After again punching the shark in the nose and it retreating, Kawika was able to pull himself back on his board. Kawika knew to stay calm while realizing his arm was bleeding profusely. With quick thinking, he used the leash from his board as a tourniquet to stop the hemorrhaging and reported that his, “paddle was too far away, the board began slightly drifting towards open water, and the rescue boat took about 30 minutes to get to me”.

We know that there were two witnesses but know no details of his rescue, other than that there were heroic efforts to save him through the actions and multiples of blood transfusions by a good number of people, among the island’s 800 residents. We know that he was taken to the small medical unit on the island and that when he arrived in Florida, “he looked like he still had dirt from the beach on him”, according to Kai Matsu, recalling a conversation with his mother Eileen. We don’t know any details from the three days that elapsed between Monday, the day of the attack, and Thursday, when Kawika was finally flown off the island with grievous wounds, in critical condition.

It has been difficult to reach people on Ascension Island due to the distance, the time difference, and because two different militaries are involved from both the U.K. and the U.S. It is hard to get answers.

Think of it - Kawika was attacked on Monday and was not able to be transported until THURSDAY to urgent trauma care! He was first flown to Brazil and from there on a medevac flight for the LONG almost 8000-mile journey to a Ft. Lauderdale trauma hospital. We know that he had surgery on Friday morning July 28th, from the report in TrackingSharks.com in which Kawika was quoted as saying, “I am OK and headed into surgery”.

Every few days, Kawika makes a post on his Facebook page. The first came on Sunday July 30th, when he posted the self-photo in his ICU bed, embedded in this report. Kawika’s post with that photo:

The first Facebook post made by Kawika Matsu on July 30th, that accompanied the self-photo embedded in this report.
The first Facebook post made by Kawika Matsu on July 30th, that accompanied the self-photo embedded in this report.

Last Wednesday he was scheduled for his third surgery but it was postponed just prior, when bacterial specialists found E.coli and another type of bacteria. Sharks eat trash among other things, so infection is a serious consideration and a constant worry.

Just prior to Kawika’s re-scheduled third surgery last Friday, his mother Eileen Matsu told KITV, "He's in excruciating pain and lost quite a bit of muscle mass". Kawika underwent his fourth surgery on Monday. This morning he made his most recent update, showing he’s due for his 5th surgery tomorrow...

Kawika Matsu’s Facebook post of today, August 9, 2017.
Kawika Matsu’s Facebook post of today, August 9, 2017.

Before each surgery, pain medication is withheld and a strict diet enforced for up to 24 hours prior. Four surgeries thus far equals four full days without substantial food or pain medication. These are gaping wounds that need skin grafts. As reported by KITV last Friday, "They want to get the grafts done this week because they're worried about any kind of damage. Right now, he can move his fingers and he has some patience, so that's good. But they're worried about the upper right arm," said Eileen.”

Kawika is facing multiples of surgeries to replace skin, flesh, nerves and muscle over the next year, while in-hospital in Florida. Kawika’s family lives in Hawaii while his friends are predominantly located in Hawaii, Colorado, New York and Ascension Island. All long distances for any of us to lend true physical support to Kawika. Kai Matsu told me that the family is searching for accommodation to lease and a cheap fuel-efficient car, so the family can take shifts, staying at Kawika’s bedside.

Costs for this are hard to determine due to the tremendous inconsistencies in our health care system and the extensive costs being incurred. It was mind-bending adding the basic costs I found in the University Health Cleveland Medical Center website, for ICU, surgery, blood tests, specialized doctors, transfusions, prescriptions, physical therapy, the medevac flights, and the plethora of other expenses being incurred during Kawika’s recovery.

Kawika not only needs our constant collective prayers, but financial help. This can only be accomplished by many people sharing Kawika’s story of true heroism and through donations of any size, to the GoFundMe fund for Kawika’s recovery.

The Support Community for Kawika Matsu page has just launched in Facebook. We hope that you’ll join, leave messages of support, and become part of the community supporting Kawika.

We the people who love Kawika, want y’all to know that he is genuine, kind, loving, generous, funny, loyal, fun, a great HVAC engineer, a true outdoors-man with his passions for all water activities, skiing, climbing, and so much more. He is brave, keeps a positive attitude and is downright heroic in all he has accomplished since battling the shark.

To my friend Kawika and his family (who are ohana), I say stay brave, loving, believing, persevering, and keep those positive vibes flowing. Know that I and many others are praying for and loving you, and available to help in any way that we can. We look forward to seeing you active in the water and mountains once again.

Kawika and his family wish to express their gratitude for all the support and prayers and for the rescuers, care-givers, blood donors, medevac crews, and doctors and nurses currently caring for Kawika. And, a special thanks to Major Daniel Schempp, Commander of the U.S. military unit on Ascension Island for your tremendous help and for setting up the original crowdfund to help with Kawika’s recovery expenses.

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