Juan Carlos La Verde, who also goes by the name J.C. Defeats, was swimming in Lake Thonotosassa, about 20 miles northeast of Tampa. La Verde was being recorded with a drone hovering above for a video for his company. He accidentally forgot to bring his swimming goggles for swimming in the murky water.
Chilling drone video reveals the moment that La Verde swam straight into a 12-foot-long alligator and was mauled. The alligator snapped at La Verde, and the animal clenched its jaw on the man's head and upper torso.
Pointing to the right side of his head, La Verde said, "I was chomped down on this side, like completely."
La Verde – a former U.S. Air Force pararescue veteran and current firefighter – fought for his life.
"An unbelievable amount of faith in myself that I wasn’t going to die," he recalled of the fight with the alligator. "I was going to be OK, but I needed to act for sure."
With the alligator's jaw clamped on his head, he put his hands into the animal's mouth.
"So, what I think I did, what I felt like I did, was that I immediately tried to open its jaws because I knew I was in a gator," J.C. told WFTS.
"When I felt the teeth, I immediately knew, and then as I opened it, I knew that I either turned it or it turned me, but it was confused just as I was confused, and then it just let go," he explained. "She let go, and she didn’t have to let go."
J.C., who is a triathlete, frantically swam to the dock.
A good Samaritan drove him to the hospital. During the drive, La Verde called 911 to inform emergency officials about the alligator attack.
La Verde underwent emergency surgery for six hours. He spent eight days in the hospital.
(WARNING: Graphic video)
JC Defeats a 12 foot gator www.youtube.com
La Verde's wife said her husband is "a walking miracle."
Christine La Verde told WTVT, "The bite crushed his skull, and it punctured his brain, so they ended up having to do a craniectomy – remove part of his temporal lobe."
The alligator attack broke his jaw and damaged a facial nerve.
J.C. had his jaw wired shut and needs to wear a helmet to protect his vulnerable head. He will need another surgery in the future.
J.C. offered words of inspiration to others struggling and advised them to keep their faith.
"I’m asking you to be tough because the world is a really difficult place, and, man, is it challenging to maneuver without God and ultimately Jesus Christ in your heart," he said. "Find your God. Find him. I get that that's scary, I do, but life is a scary place, so you can carry that load by yourself or have someone carry it for you."
This is the fourth serious alligator attack in the Tampa area since March. The other three incidents were fatal.