Pro surfer Bethany Hamilton underwent arm surgery Saturday to repair nerve damage suffered in a surfing accident incurred on June 22. She was on a boat trip with sponsor Rip Curl on Indonesia's Mentawai Islands at the time.
Becky Hamilton, Bethany's personal assistant and sister-in-law, told ESPN that Bethany was at follow-up appointments with doctors and expects to make a full recovery. "She was feeling really good [after surgery]," Becky said, adding that Bethany spent Sunday posing for pictures at a scheduled autograph signing. "Everyone was blown away. She's got a lot of energy."
The injury occurred when Bethany fell and a surfboard fin sliced her bicep. The cut required 10 stitches, and Hamilton had lingering numbness from her pinky and ring finger up to the injury on the lower side of her arm. Hamilton lost her left arm in a shark attack off the North Shore of Kauai on Oct. 31, 2003. That incident and her recovery are the subject of the feature film 'Soul Surfer,' which was released in April.
While traveling home to Hawaii, Bethany saw a doctor in Singapore who concluded that the medial cutaneous nerve of her forearm had been injured but that her ulnar nerve was fine. However, a nerve specialist in Oahu determined Friday that she had been misdiagnosed and recommended immediate surgery.
"She was kind of in denial and thought it would be fine, everything will heal on it's own," Becky said. "She was a little bit shocked. We were all hoping that everything would be fine and would be able to heal without [surgery]."
During surgery, the doctor repaired a nerve and found that the ulnar nerve had been bruised. The cut also came within two millimeters of a major artery in Bethany's arm.
"If the cut had hit that artery, and severed or cut it, you don't even know what could have happened," Becky said. "She could have lost her arm or lost her life." In an update posted on her Web site, Bethany wrote: "Once again, a near death experience ... To be dramatic, there I was out in the middle of nowhere, 15-plus hours boat ride from proper medical care."
In a YouTube message posted July 6, Bethany appears on a stand-up paddling board with her brother Timmy. "Beautiful sunset, just happy to be home and healing my arm," she says. Becky said Bethany's arm is in a sling, and the doctor prescribed lots of rest. "Obviously, since it's her one arm, she's doing some stuff," Becky said. "She's got good movement, and no muscle therapy is necessary."
'Soul Surfer' is nominated for an ESPY in the Best Sports Movie category, and for a Teen Choice Award in Choice Movie: Drama. AnnaSophia Robb, who played Bethany in the film, was also nominted for a Teen Choice Award in the Choice Actress: Drama category. Bethany is not competing this summer, a decision she made before the injury, but plans to return to competition later this year.