Florida woman recovering from stingray attack shares experience: 'Thought I was going to die'

Kristie Cataffo-O'Brien was relaxing at Bahia Beach when she felt two barbs penetrate her back.

ByGMA Team ABCNews logo
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Woman speaks out after being 'impaled' by stingray in Florida
Kristie Cataffo-O'Brien said she was relaxing in knee-deep water off the coast of Florida when she felt a stab through her back by a venomous stingray.

BAHIA BEACH, Fla. -- A relaxing day at a Florida beach turned nearly catastrophic last week when a beachgoer was impaled by a venomous stingray.

Kristie Cataffo-O'Brien was cooling off in knee-deep water in Bahia Beach, Florida, when two barbs from a stingray penetrated her back. The barbs dug three inches into O'Brien's upper back, missing her lungs by three centimeters, according to a GoFundMe page set up for her, which includes a photo of the impalement.

"It was quite terrifying," O'Brien said in an interview with FOX 13 in Tampa, Florida.

Paramedics rushed to the scene and snipped the stingray's spine from the base of its tail.

"I started becoming hysterical just knowing that it was not alive in me anymore and the barb was still on me," said O'Brien.

Once at the hospital, doctors undertook the task of removing the poisonous rod.

In the GoFundMe description, the woman's family said she may suffer from nerve damage as a result of the injury.

According to the National Capital Poison Center, there are between 1,500 and 2,000 stingray injuries in the United States every year. Most of these cases are non-fatal, generally resulting from the puncture rather than the poison of the rod.

"It's really only when you have a stingray barb hit a major organ and cause a massive injury that they can be deadly," said Mike Heithaus, a marine life expert.

Experts say the best way to avoid injuries like O'Brien's is to shuffle your feet in the sand.

O'Brien compared her experience to that of Steve Irwin, the renowned Australian crocodile hunter who was killed by a stingray in 2006 while filming in the Great Barrier Reef.

"This stingray tried to pull a Steve Irwin," O'Brien wrote on Instagram. "I have never been so scared and actually thought I was going to die."