MYAKKA CITY, Fla. — For the first time we are hearing from the man who lost his arm in an alligator attack in Myakka City earlier this summer.
Eric Merda who's still adjusting to life with one arm, says he spent three grueling days in the swamp after a gator bit his arm off when he was swimming in Lake Manatee.
This story is graphic and reader discretion is advised.
There have been at least a half dozen gator attacks this season around the Tampa Bay area, the most recent involving a 77-year-old woman over Labor Day weekend.
Merda is one of those who lived to tell his story.
"Not the smartest decision a Florida boy could make," Merda said during an exclusive interview with 10 Tampa Bay less than two months since the attack.
Merda said on July 17, he got lost in the woods at the Lake Manatee Fish Camp in Myakka City. When he finally found the lake, he decided to swim across rather than walk around.
"I look over and there's a gator on my right-hand side so I went to swim and she got my forearm so I grabbed her like this, she was trying to roll but she snapped her head so my arm went backwards like this completely," said Merda who continued to fight for his life.
The alligator dragged him underwater three times.
"She's already got my arm, so when we came up the third time, she finally did her death roll and took off with my arm," he explained.
That's just where Merda's story begins.
He says he swam back to where he started and began to walk, wander, and scream for help.
"Bones poking out, muscles, if I try to move my fingers, you could see it twitching," said Merda who couldn't quite put the pain into words.
He says he spent three days trying to find his way out of the swamp.
"I felt like I was walking in circles, I didn't know," he said. "So I followed the sun and power lines, stuff I could see."
Finally, on day number three, he stumbled on a fence and a man on the other side.
"I said a gator got my arm, he said, 'holy smokes man!'" Merda exclaimed.
The first thing Merda said he wanted was water. Then, he was on a stretcher headed to Sarasota Memorial Hospital where he says surgeons amputated the majority of his right arm.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported Merda's attack on July 21.
Merda says he's adapting to a new normal with a new perspective and wants to warn others to be more cautious around Florida waters.
"Do not feed the gators and you guys know who you are, throwing rocks at them, I've seen it on the job sites, leave them gators alone," Merda warns.