The Miracle at Seacrest Beach: America Responds

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By Rick Karle

Dr Ryan Forbess and Lulu Gribbin. Photo courtesy Ann Blair Gribbin.
Dr Ryan Forbess and Lulu Gribbin. Photo courtesy Ann Blair Gribbin.

It was June 8th, and the 15-year-old looked up at her parents following surgery.

A day earlier she had been rushed to Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.

It was the day after the shark attack.

“I made it,” the teenager whispered.

America saved a life on June 7th, 2024.

In fact, America saved the lives of three good folks who simply sought a fun day at the beach.

Lulu Gribbin, McRay Faust and Elisabeth Foley (who lost her hand in a separate attack four miles away) are alive today because of our neighbors who stepped up.

Hardworking, kind people who deserve a shout out—the same people who took part in “The Miracle At Seacrest Beach.”

Matt Lidle
Matt Lidle

“I haven’t stopped thinking about it,” Matt Lidle told me days ago.

Matt made good on his promise to chat with me after I called him.

“I wanted to speak to Lulu and her parents first,” Matt said.

The Memphis resident who was on a beach vacation with his wife, Rachel, and his son, Harrison, can’t get the scene out of his mind.

Sterling Duncan
Sterling Duncan

Sterling Duncan works at Seacrest Beach, Fla. Sterling is a Jackson, Tenn., native who on June 7th was at his job working the beach chairs at La Dolce Vita Beach Rentals. “The incident is weighing heavy on me, but I am so appreciative of how many people stepped up,” said Sterling.

I could sense that it’s going to take a while for Sterling to erase the memory of helping get Lulu out of the ocean.

Cole Booker
Cole Booker

“We had just arrived at Seacrest Beach,” Cole Booker of Brandon, Miss., told me. “My wife and I were just getting settled on our vacation, and I heard the screams. I ran to the ocean.”

Stephen and Kathy Beene share time between Seacrest Beach and Baton Rouge, La.

June 7th was going to be another relaxing day at the beach. It would be anything but.

Cathy Dougherty is an ER nurse from Louisville, Ky.

Cathy Dougherty
Cathy Dougherty. Photo courtesy Amy Dougherty Hirby.

Cathy and her husband, Joe Sparks, were on vacation, their beach chairs held together by a ratchet strap Joe had purchased before their trip south. Remember the ratchet strap.

“My family members were enjoying the water,” Dr. Ryan Forbess told me from Orange Beach Family Medicine.

Dr. Forbess and his good friend–Dr. Moh Ali–and their families, vacation together every year in the Seacrest Beach area.

Right place, right time.

The doctors were enjoying boogie boarding with their kids on June 7th; little did the doctors know how much they would be relied on.

“It had to be a God thing putting all those people at the place they were needed,” Shari Woody, an employee at Orange Beach Family Medicine told me.

There were laughs and giggles from the young teenagers as they frolicked in the surf. It was last Friday afternoon, and the mother-daughter beach trip was in full swing. The good friends from the Mountain Brook, Ala., area were near the sand bar, diving for sand dollars.

That’s when the shark attacked.

“I heard people yell, ‘Shark!’, Matt Lidle told me.

“I turned and ran into the water toward the girl’s screams and I saw a sea of blood,” Matt told me. Stephen Beene had just pulled the girl away from the shark.

Stephen Beene
Stephen Beene

“I was the man who pulled Lulu from the shark,” Beene texted me. “Hand me the girl,” Lidle said to Beene, as they both tended to Lulu. “We need to get her to shore!”

Matt cradled Lulu Gribbin and ran through the water as fast as his lungs would allow. “She was conscious—she was looking up at me,” said Matt. “I was very concerned, because she had stopped bleeding,” he whispered.

Cole Booker had reached Matt and Lulu just as Matt was tiring. “Help me carry her,” Matt yelled to Cole. “Matt was getting tired. I wanted to grab the girl by the legs,” Cole told me, his voice softening. “I grabbed her by the waist instead,” Cole said.

Lulu’s mother Ann Blair and other moms were hundreds of yards way, strolling on the beach. They ran to the girls that were brought to the beach by Matt, Sterling, Cole and others. (McCray Faust suffered a deep gash on a lower extremity.)

“I saw the wounds on Lulu’s leg and started to scream,” Ann Blair Gribbin wrote on Caring Bridge about seeing her daughter. “The wound on Lulu’s leg, or all that was left of her leg, was something out of a movie. I finally made it back to her and held her hand and she saw me, and I told her I was there. Her eyes were open,” Ann Blair wrote.

America went to work saving Lulu, and America had some help from above, as several of the beachgoers just happened to work in the medical field. “It was amazing,” Dr. Forbess told me. “So many of the people who gathered around Lulu knew medicine.”

Dr Ryan Forbess courtesy Shari Woody
Dr Ryan Forbess courtesy Shari Woody

Dr. Forbess and Dr. Ali huddled over Lulu.

An EMT who was visiting the beach made tourniquets.

An ER nurse from Louisville was on vacation and assisted Drs. Forbess and Ali.

An anesthesiologist told the doctors that she was available to help.

Dr Moh Ali courtesy Shari Woody
Dr Moh Ali courtesy Shari Woody

Cathy Dougherty put her ER nurse experience to good use. Cathy held up Lulu’s head, placing two fingers on Lulu’s carotid artery and her other hand on Lulu’s chest. She was ready to perform CPR if Lulu stopped breathing.

Cathy’s husband, Joe, is a former lifeguard. Joe threw his ratchet strap to the doctors as he watched his wife hold Lulu’s head. It was the same ratchet strap that was purchased on a whim. It was the strap that would be used as a tourniquet on Lulu’s leg.

The beach patrol was soon on the scene. Experts from the South Walton Fire District and the Walton County Sheriff’s Office arrived within minutes—still, it was touch and go.

“She was going in and out of consciousness,” Dr. Forbess said. “Luckily, Dr. Ali is an expert in radiology. He knew exactly where to apply pressure to the femoral artery. It was all about ABC: Artery, Blood, Circulation,” he told me.

Lulu was rushed to Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola, where talented doctors and nurses took over lifesaving procedures.

Lulu Gribbin lost her left hand. She later had her right leg amputated between the knee and the hip.

But a community came together and helped save a life, and Lulu’s mother, Ann Blair, is grateful, writing on Caring Bridge:

“I am eternally grateful for the 3 surgeons and all the nursing staff and doctors here who saved Lulu. I am grateful for the doctors and nurses on the beach that day. I am grateful for the EMT’s on the beach and the crew in the air. I am grateful for the individuals who pulled her out of the water.”

Stephen Beene, the first person to reach Lulu as the shark attacked is thankful that Lulu is doing well. “My family’s thoughts and prayers continue to be with Lulu and her family. She is a special girl and one tough cookie,” he texted.

Matt Lidle is back in Memphis, and still can’t seem to get Lulu off his mind. “I have spoken with Lulu and the family and they seem to be doing as good as can be,” he told me.

Matt is another person who is amazed at how America pitched in. “I’m just a sales guy,” said the man who helped carry Lulu out of the water. “To stand back and watch the experts save a life after we brought her to shore was amazing.”

Sterling Duncan is back to work at Seacrest Beach sorting out beach chairs. He says he appreciates everyone who came to the aid of Lulu. “God has some amazing things planned for that girl,” he said.

Louisville’s Cathy Dougherty and her husband, Joe, have finished up their beach vacation. Both are feeling blessed that they were able to help in some way. They sure are glad that Joe bought that ratchet strap.

Dr. Forbess remains busy seeing patients at Orange Beach Family Medicine. “I think the lesson here is to have faith in humanity,” he told me. “When we come together, great things can happen.”

And Cole Booker and his wife Jasmine? They are back home in Mississippi, glorifying God for putting the right people in the right place. “I’m a big Jesus guy,” Cole told me. “It was all Jesus,” he added.

Lulu Gribbin and twin sister Ellie courtesy Ann Blair Gribbin
Lulu Gribbin and twin sister Ellie courtesy Ann Blair Gribbin

Lulu has had numerous surgeries, and she is now being fitted for prosthetics at an undisclosed hospital. Her mother Ann Blair tells me when the time is right, the story of her amazing, strong, fierce and beautiful daughter will be told.

Until Lulu’s story is written, Ann Blair writes on Caring Bridge:

“Lulu is worried about not fitting in and people making fun of her. I need prayers for everyone to be understanding and to show her grace. I also need prayers for Lulu to know that her hand and her leg do not define who she is.”

June 7th, 2024, brought an unimaginable, frightening scene. But, thanks to a wonderful community, America came together and saved a life.

While Lulu Gribbin faces a long road ahead, she’s forging on. She is amazing and strong and fierce and beautiful, and she’s smiling more often these days.

Because Lulu has made it.

Thanks to “The Miracle at Seacrest Beach.”

Birmingham’s Rick Karle is a 43-year TV news veteran and a 25-time Emmy winner. His “good news” stories can be found on Facebook at Rick Karle Good News. You can email Rick your story ideas at RickKarleGoodNews@gmail.com.

From the Publisher

As have many of you, Destin Life has been following the accounts of the recent, rare shark attacks that happened in our area June 7. We are all saddened to hear of these tragic events regarding all three victims. However, we are grateful for the heroes (ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary feats) in the water and on the beach that day, as well as the Walton Co. Sheriff’s Office, South Walton Fire District, EMTs, doctors, nurses, flight crews, hospital staff and many others. We want to recognize you and thank you! We know God was there; and was working through these brave men and women to save lives. Thank you also, Rick Karle, for telling this story so eloquently and allowing us to print it.

Lulu is progressing miraculously each day; you can follow her progress through her mom, Ann Blair Gribbin, on CaringBridge.org. Search Lulu Gribbin.

To help support Lulu, you can contribute to the Caring For Lulu fund at Oakworth Capital Bank through Zelle, Caringforlulu@gmail.com. Or mail a check made out to Richard Littrell and Stephen Faust FBO Lulu Gribbin: Oakworth Capital Bank. Attn: Richard Littrell FBO Lulu Gribbin, 850 Shades Creek Pkwy., Suite 200, Birmingham, AL 35209. Cards can be sent to Lulu Strong, P.O. Box 660257, Birmingham, AL 35266-0257.

You can support Elizabeth Foley through GiveSendGo.com, “Supporting Elizabeth Foley & The Foley Family.”

~ Lori Leath Smith

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