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The Strength of a Father

The shark attack, the race to shore, the life flight to the hospital. Every second I was praying for my son. But were my prayers enough?

By Cecil Vossler, Fort Worth, Texas

As appeared in

Up one dune and back down, we trudged. Please, please, please. Help, help, help. It was all I could think to pray. No other words. I looked to Nicholas’s face. His eyes rolled back in his head. He was going into shock.

“No, buddy,” I shouted. “Stay with us. You gotta stay with us.” I squeezed harder on his wound until my hands trembled and ached. Please, please, please. Help, help, help.

I searched the horizon for the blue waters of the bay. Daniel must have gotten there by now. Had Alisha found a boat? Had she called 911? Every moment counted. One last dune to climb.

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Mark and Kevin were panting. “Hold on,” I said to Nicholas. “We’ll get a boat. We’re almost there.”

We trudged downhill and I glimpsed Alisha. She saw the blood on Nick’s legs and covering my hands. She rushed forward. “I found a boat,” she said. “EMTs are waiting on the other side of the bay. They’ll take him to the hospital.” But her eyes asked, Is our son going to live?

People stared at us. The news had spread. Shark attack! Alisha led the way to the boat. We lifted Nicholas up and lowered him into the back. Alisha cradled his head in her lap. I kept pressure on his foot, pain shooting all the way up into my shoulders.

Lord, I am weak. Keep me strong. The driver revved the engine and shot away from the dock. “Ten minutes,” he shouted. “We can get across in ten minutes.” What if 10 minutes was too long?

The boat pounded against the water. Nicholas’s face went ashen and his eyes rolled back again. With my free hand I splashed water on him. But I felt so weak, like a man who had lost all power. I looked at Alisha. She saw my fear.

Nicholas opened his eyes. “Mom, you need to pray for me,” he said.

“Your dad and I will both pray for you,” Alisha said. “Dear Lord, be with Nicholas. Give him strength. Let him be safe.” Her words rose over the noise of the engine.

I looked down at my hands, clutching my son’s foot, slippery with blood, and I thought of God holding me in his hands. A Father holding on to a father holding on to his son. Lord, I’m so weak, but I trust you.

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Nicholas turned to me. “Dad, do you think I’ll still be able to play football?”

Hope surged through me. “Yes, buddy, you’ll play ball.”

“Squeeze my hand as hard as you can and don’t let go,” Alisha said.

We made it across the bay in eight minutes. Record time. A helicopter touched down to fly Nicholas to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. EMTs surged around him, but I didn’t want to let go.

“We’ll be there real soon, buddy,” I said to my son as they rushed him into the helicopter. “And we’ll be praying for you the whole time.”

We changed out of our blood-drenched clothes, then drove to the hospital. Alisha texted friends and family the whole way: Pray. Pray for Nicholas.

He had an excellent surgeon and team of physicians. They reattached his nerves and arteries, applied skin grafts to his foot. It took five separate surgeries over a couple of weeks and I prayed over Nicholas each time.