German shark bite victim doing well; Vero Beach lifeguard who swam to her in May to receive Medal of Valor

VERO BEACH — The family of shark bite victim Karin Stei is helping to ensure other visitors to the city's beaches can get the care needed if a life is endangered as the German tourist's was last May.

Ed Bierschenk /

VERO BEACH — The family of shark bite victim Karin Stei is helping to ensure other visitors to the city's beaches can get the care needed if a life is endangered as the German tourist's was last May.

Stei's brother, Peter, has been keeping in regular contact with lifeguard Erik Toomsoo, who swam out to her rescue last year after she was bitten by a shark May 9 in water northeast of Humiston Beach Park.

"We're glad to see that she's improving," said Toomsoo Monday.

Toomsoo was recently notified that he will be receiving the Medal of Valor from the United States Lifesaving Association for his role in saving Karin Stei last May. He views the award as an opportunity to further promote water safety.

Peter Stei has donated $3,800 to Toomsoo's Vero Beach Lifeguard Association, whose mission is to promote water safety and lifeguarding in Vero Beach and the surrounding communities.

In a recent email to Toomsoo, Peter Stei describes how his sister is faring these days in her recovery from the bite that removed a large portion of her upper left thigh.

"Karin's condition is rather good, taking into account what she had experienced," wrote Stei. "She has returned to work and leads a rather normal life, including activities like cycling or going for short walks. Also driving a car is possible.

"The very good fact is that the covering of the wound by skin transplantation from her right thigh to the injured left has been very successful. Her doctors (are) amazed/astonished how fast the new skin has grown. Of course, stair climbing is a challenge but living in the fourth floor without an elevator gives her a good workout on a daily basis. The shark has removed some of the musculature necessary for stabilization of the knee joint, but luckily not the most important one.

"Karin is strong, she takes the good things out of all situations and is very willing to overcome the accident as good as possible. Her friends still help her and also her employer has show an exceptional commitment and support," wrote Stei.

Stei wrote that he hardly would have thought she would be back to such a life considering her condition after returning to Germany last May and gave his best regards to all who helped her in Vero Beach.

The Vero Beach Lifeguard Association has raised more than $10,000 through such fundraising activities as selling calendars from its website, and makes presentations to local schools about water safety.

The organization on Feb. 19 will be presenting a check for $1,500 to the city for the purchase of a rescue skid for use with the city's new, upgraded all-terrain vehicle in the transport of injured beachgoers.

Toomsoo was sweeping the steps along the Humiston Beach Park boardwalk last May when he spotted Stei, surrounded by blood, about 30 yards offshore and quickly dove into the waters, grabbed her, and swam her to safety.

He was one of a number of lifeguards, other rescue personnel and civilians who quickly came to her aid that day.

Others involved in the rescue included Michigan tourist Dave Daniels who also swam out to Stei and, along with others, assisted Toomsoo in getting her on the beach and providing first aid. Lifeguards Shanna Beard, Tim Capra, and Jordan Farrow along with police, Indian River County Fire Rescue personnel, and Martin County emergency workers who were in a Lifestar helicopter flying overhead at the time of the attack, also played key roles.

In addition to the lifesaving association's medal of valor, Toomsoo is under consideration for a Carnegie Medal, an honor that recognizes those who risk their lives to save others.

Toomsoo and others were interviewed last August about the May incident as part of a series on such shark attacks expected to be shown this summer on the National Geographic WILD channel. Toomsoo recreated some scenes from the rescue effort for the show's producers. The series is expected to feature some other attacks that have taken place along the Treasure Coast.

Toomsoo said there were 30 rescues from the three Vero Beach beaches last year, up about 25 percent from the prior year.

The number of visitors to the city's beaches was also up about 13 percent last year, which is in line with an increase in activity that Toomsoo said he has noticed personally.

"I'm just seeing more people from all over the place," said Toomsoo.