A British woman is fighting for her life after a dolphin ripped off part of her right foot while on vacation in Bolivia.
Claire Bye, 28, survived two life-threatening infections and required 32 stitches after being bitten by the pink river dolphin while swimming in a river in Santa Rosa de Yacuma.
After trying to free herself, she screamed for help when bystanders tried to pull her out of the water.
After 20 seconds, the dolphin swam away, allowing Claire to climb out of the water to safety.
Claire said she was “shocked” to see her foot was partially severed and “bleeding.”
Claire Bye (pictured) survived two life-threatening infections and required 32 stitches after being bitten by the pink river dolphin while swimming in a river in Santa Rosa de Yacuma
Claire said she was ‘shocked’ to see her foot was partially severed and ‘bleeding’
She added, “I kept thinking I was going to lose my foot. My skin was flapping around and I could see my bone.’
Claire was taken to a hospital five minutes’ drive away, where her open wounds were treated.
After four days, her condition worsened as she battled a potentially life-threatening infection.
Medics recommended that she be flown to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, for further treatment.
After a surgical cleanse to treat the infection and remove the dead tissue, Claire had to wait another two weeks before she could fly back to the UK.
At Southmead Hospital in Bristol, she underwent skin flap surgery, which involved transferring living tissue from her groin to her foot, and spent a further two weeks recovering.
Claire, an acoustic consultant for Bedminster in Bristol, said: ‘I’ve never felt such pain.
“I remember seeing the dolphin out of the corner of my eye, and then suddenly it lunged at me.
‘It wasn’t the cute looking dolphins they were used to seeing, it had a huge beak with a mouthful of spiky teeth.
“I screamed and screamed, but it just wouldn’t let me go.”
She added, “It felt like it held me for 15 minutes, but apparently it took about 20 seconds for it to let go and swim away.
“After the attack, I was taken to a small local hospital that was nothing like the hospitals we have.
“They did their best, but I got an infection that started spreading down my leg.
“I really thought I was going to lose my foot, or possibly my life.”
Claire started her journey in October 2022, with plans to travel South America and Central America for seven months. On January 3, Claire’s travels were cut short by the life-changing injuries
Claire started her journey in October 2022, with plans to travel South America and Central America for seven months.
On January 3, Claire’s travels were cut short by the life-changing injuries.
Claire and her friend Louis set off on a jungle trek earlier that day to explore the Amazon Basin – the part of South America drained by the Amazon River.
They were led by an experienced guide and accompanied by a group of fellow tourists.
The group stopped at the river and spent time swimming and playing with the wild pink river dolphins.
Claire said, “There were mostly kids swimming in the water with the dolphins.
“I saw a kid trying to pick up a dolphin, which made me feel uncomfortable, so I decided to get out of the water and onto the pontoon.
“Then the dolphins started to get aggressive and a few people came out of the water with scratches on their legs where they had been bitten.”
Claire decided not to go back into the water, instead opting to play with them with a water bottle, as their guide demonstrated, from the safety of the pontoon.
After a few minutes, Claire accidentally dropped the water bottle, so she jumped into the shallows to retrieve it.
Moments later, a dolphin attacked her.
Claire said, “The water was brown and I looked away so I couldn’t see it biting my foot.
“The people on the pontoon tried to help pull me up, but I couldn’t move because the dolphin wouldn’t let go.”
After the dolphin released her foot, a bystander removed his T-shirt to tie around her foot to stem the bleeding and Claire was carried to a nearby car and driven to the local hospital.
Claire said, ‘When we got to the hospital my heart sank – it looked more like a barnyard than a proper hospital.
“The people there were very nice and tried their best to sew up my foot, but they had no drugs.
‘They gave me an anesthetic injection and my guide had to go to the local pharmacy to buy some painkillers.
“After they sewed up my foot, I was taken to a room to recover. There was blood on the floor and I wasn’t sure if it was my blood or someone else’s.
“There was an ant’s nest in the bathroom and there were no mosquito nets.”
Due to the lack of medical facilities in the area, Claire was transferred to Rurrenabaque, Bolivia – four hours away.
Claire said: ‘We were warned that if it started to rain we could get stuck because the roads were just muddy.
“It started raining while we were driving, and the car was sliding all over the place – it was terrifying.”
Once they arrived in Rurrenabaque, the hospital was full and Claire had to stay in a nearby hostel.
Claire said, “A man came to check on me four times a day to give me antibiotics, but he wasn’t really paying attention to my foot.”
Her wound became infected and she required urgent medical treatment from Cemes Hospital in La Paz.
After frantic phone calls to the British Embassy, Claire managed to fly to the capital the next day, where she underwent surgical cleansing to treat the infection and remove the dead tissue.
Claire, who is currently unable to work due to her injuries, said: ‘After the surgery I actually had a huge hole in my foot.
‘I spent two weeks in hospital in La Paz before flying home to the UK.
“By the time I finally returned home, I went straight to the ER and was told I had another infection.
“I had to have a second surgical cleanse and then skin flap surgery that transplanted tissue from my groin to my foot.
“They also had to sew the blood vessels together to keep the blood flowing.
“It’s been really traumatic.
She added: ‘I have only recently been allowed to put pressure on my foot and I don’t know how badly my mobility will be affected once it has healed.
“Personally, I think my foot looks a bit like a piece of pork wrapped in string right now.
“I saw a psychologist to help deal with the trauma — I had daily flashbacks of the attack.
‘I used to love wild swimming and I hope to be able to do it in the future, but I will never swim with dolphins again.
“What should have been a beautiful experience has changed my life forever. It’s incredibly rare for dolphins to attack humans and I never thought that would happen to me.’
It is being investigated why the dolphin attacked her.
Since then, other people have been bitten while swimming in the river, despite the warning signs posted.