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New fiancée gets bitten by shark

‘Not the hand with the ring on it’

Posted: June 1, 2017 5:15 p.m.
Updated: June 2, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Provided by Mackenzie Higgins/

This selfie says it all for Mackenzie Higgins of Camden and Rob Wall of Lugoff, who got engaged in Awendaw on May 27. The couple was on vacation with Mackenzie’s family when he popped the question. Three days later, Mackenzie ended up with a much less welcome surprise: a shark her brother caught while fishing on a nearby island bit her on the right hand -- “not the hand with the ring on it.” Luckily, surgeons fixed any damage and she plans to return to Camden on Saturday.

Twenty-year-old Mackenzie Higgins lay in the bottom of the boat Tuesday, her right arm up in the air as her mother, Terry, applied pressure to her hand. Her 22-year-old boyfriend, Rob Wall -- who had proposed to her a few days earlier, on May 27 -- sped the craft away from the island they’d been enjoying about a mile off shore back to the Awendaw landing where his truck was, several miles up U.S. 17 from Mt. Pleasant.

Mackenzie could move her thumb, but it was numb.

Just a few minutes earlier, her brother was holding up a 3-foot-long shark he had caught with their cousins and Rob, who’d been fishing on the island’s shore. Mackenzie had gone over to touch its back.

The shark whirled around in her brother’s hands, lunged and clamped down on the fleshy part of Mckenzie’s right hand, just below the thumb.

“They’re so strong and their body is like one big muscle,” Mackenzie recalled Thursday from the Awendaw house she, Rob and her family are staying in. “My brother dropped the shark, so it was just hanging from my hand. I shook my hand -- like shaking hands with someone -- and it finally dropped off. My mom ran over, Rob ran over and my mom grabs my wrist because I was bleeding.”

Upon reaching the landing, Rob jumps out to drive his truck down to the water. A man comes up to the boat and gets it up on to the truck’s trailer so Rob doesn’t have to get out of the truck and do it himself.

“This man also asked if he could pray for me, and he did,” Mackenzie said. “Then my mom and I hopped in the truck and we high-tailed it to the hospital.”

A few minutes later at nearby Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital, emergency department personnel immediately start taking care of Mackenzie.

“They were phenomenal. They immediately put my hand in water to clean it. They soaked it and then the doctors came in and they irrigated it and took an X-Ray,” she said.

The X-ray shows some kind of foreign object in her hand, but none of the doctors can figure out what it is or find it when they look for themselves.

“So, they called in a hand specialist -- she’s a surgeon -- a couple of hours later. She looked and she couldn’t find it, either,” Mackenzie said.

A hand and upper extremity specialist, tells her it shouldn’t cause a problem.

During about an hour and 15-minute-long surgery, the surgeon repaired the shark bite’s damage in her hand: A severed arterial artery, a hole in another one and damage to one of her nerves.

“It went great,” Mackenzie said. “I was in recovery for 30 minutes to an hour and then I got to go home.”

Another piece of good news about the experience was that the shark bit her right hand.

“Not the hand with the ring on it,” Mackenzie declared.

Mackenzie and Rob first met at Myrtle Beach’s Pirate Land. She was in the 8th grade at Camden Middle School. He was a 10th grader at Lugoff-Elgin High School.

“We didn’t talk for a whole year after we met, but reconnected when I was in 9th grade and he was in 11th. That’s when we started dating and we’ve been dating ever since,” she said.

Their relationship has lasted through their high school years and into college. Mackenzie attended the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg, but didn’t like the Upstate, so she moved back to Camden and transferred to Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC). She is in the nursing program and hopes to become a family nurse practitioner. Rob is a student at CCTC as well, in its mechatronics program and will be graduating in July. MacKenzie said he hopes to be an electrician at a plant in or near the Camden area.

The couple and Mackenzie’s family left for Awendaw around 3 a.m. May 27 so they could reach the intracoastal waterway by sunrise. The plan was to stay through Tuesday night before Rob had to return to school and so MacKenzie could return to work at Pink Stable where she is the manager.

She said her family knew that sometime during the vacation Rob planned to propose.

“They kind of knew, but they didn’t know exactly where or what day,” Mackenzie said.

The Awendaw house they all stayed in used to belong to Rob’s family. After selling it, the new owner agreed to rent it to Mackenzie’s family for vacations, so they were very used to staying there. The waterway is familiar to them as well.

“It’s one of our favorite places since we started dating,” Mackenzie said.

After several hours of boating and fishing on the waterway, Rob stopped the boat at Bucks Hall Recreation Area. They had never been to that specific spot before. It would be the site of Mackenzie’s first surprise of the vacation.

“We got off right at the edge of the water and that’s when he did it -- one knee and everything!” she said.

The couple has not set a date, but is hoping to marry next year, perhaps in October.

More immediately, plans are to stay in Awendaw until Saturday as Mackenzie recuperates.

“The surgeon thinks everything will be great,” she said. “I’ve been doing really great. The pain hasn’t been too God-awful. I have to come back in 10 days to take the bandage off and see how it is.”

Mackenzie said it’s been a little easier using her left for certain things than she expected.

“Hopefully, I’ll be ambidextrous before this is all over with,” she joked.

And once she gets home Saturday?

“I plan to take a good long nap in my own bed.”

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