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'Life or death situation': St. Pete woman recovering from shark encounter near St. Pete Pier

A birthday celebration for one of Natalie Branda's friends took a turn when she felt pressure on her body and realized she had been bitten.

SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. — A woman survived a terrifying shark bite while boating near St. Pete Pier, and doctors say she's lucky her injuries aren't more serious. 

"It was a definite life or death situation," Natalie Branda said. 

At just 26 years old, she is grateful and lucky to be alive. Saturday was supposed to be a day of celebration for one of her friends when things took a turn. 

"We took the boat out the sailboat out for my friend's birthday. We were jumping in the water and swimming in the water. We had been doing this for a few hours and my boyfriend and I were the last two in the water," Branda said.

Around 8 p.m., she was going to get a floaty that fell in the water when the unthinkable happened.

"I was swimming and I felt pressure around my torso. I immediately knew I was bit," Branda said.

You hear the story and think Branda and her friends were right by the Pier, but she says they were two to three miles out surrounded by water when the shark found her. 

"I screamed, 'Something bit me,' and I swam as fast as I possibly could back to the boat," Branda said.

Adrenaline rushed through Branda's body. She knew she had to get out of the water and was concerned the shark could come back and bite her or her boyfriend who was swimming behind her.

"I got out, looked down and saw puncture wounds on my stomach. Everyone saw the puncture wounds and everyone looked concerned, but it was like, 'Oh, it's OK.' Then I turned around and there was a giant gash," Branda said.

Credit: Natalie Branda

The shirt she was wearing has teeth marks from the shark's mouth. The lacerations on her hip, torso, and arm were all from one bite. Her wounds needed 13 stitches in total.

"Never in a million years was I thinking, 'You know what, I think I'm going to get bit by a shark in the ocean.' It's never scared me. It still doesn't scare me though," Branda said.

Her trauma is real, but it won't stop her from getting in the water again. She's focused on healing and started a GoFundMe to help pay for her medical bills down the line.

"I don't hold a grudge against the shark that, you know, tried to take a bite out of me. We're invading a habitat that belongs to large creatures. This is their home and you have to be respectful. Unfortunately, that day I ended up being a curious little snack," Branda said.

Now her friend's birthday is definitely one they all won't forget. 

Florida is the shark bite capital of the world. We spoke to a world-renowned shark scientist just a few months ago about the growing number of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. You can watch the story on efforts to track and conserve these apex predators here. You can also find tips to stay safe when in the water. 

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