The mother of a one-year-old girl killed by an attacking giraffe last year also became paralyzed from the waist down while trying to protect her children.
Nicole Panos, 25, tried to rescue toddler Kaia after being attacked by the animal in her native South Africa in October.
Her four-year-old son Kayden suffered skull fractures in the tragic incident at Kuleni Game Park, but survived after curling up in a ball in the sand.
Unfortunately, one-year-old Kaia passed away due to a traumatic head injury. The heartbroken mother held her in her arms.
Mrs. Panos spoke for the first time The sun her world “collapsed completely the day Kaia died.”
Nicole Panos, 25, tried to save toddler Kaia (both pictured) after being attacked by the animal in South Africa in October
Ms. Panos was paralyzed from the waist down during the attack. She spent more than three weeks in the hospital, including 16 days in intensive care
The family believes the giraffe was protecting a calf.
Ms Panos said she felt confused because they had not threatened the animal.
But as one mother said to Mrs. Panos, she understands the “instinct that starts to protect your children.”
“My last thought before she attacked us was worrying, ‘where’s her baby?’ but she took mine from me,” she added.
Mrs. Panos and her husband Jason live with their children in the family-run luxury game reserve. It is a popular holiday destination.
She worked at the wildlife training company as a marine facilitator, student mentor, and aspiring birth doula.
That tragic day, Mrs. Panos would meet a student and arrange for her children to stay with their grandparents.
After spending a relaxing morning with her children, she left her home to walk the short distance to her parents’ house with them.
In the distance, Mrs. Panos saw a male and female giraffe. However, she could not see the calf of the animals.
The female giraffe kept an eye on the family, but Ms Panos said this was not unusual as she was often curious. She did find it strange that the calf was not there.
“I carried Kaia in my arms, Kayden walked in front of me,” she said.
“Suddenly I heard this noise behind us and I turned around – and I saw her coming towards us.”
Ms Panos said the animal’s head was pointing down and she was heading straight for them, “running really fast.”
She screamed for her son Kayden to run, with Kaia in her arms, before feeling a thud on her back and being knocked unconscious.
Mrs. Panos woke up to see the giraffe heading for Kayden, but she couldn’t move to help him.
She passed out again and when she woke up, her mother was holding little Kaia. She thought both children were still alive before she passed out again.
Her four-year-old son Kayden (left) suffered skull fractures in the tragic incident at Kuleni Game Park, but survived after curling himself into a ball in the sand.
The children were rushed to urgent medical care – Kayden was sent to the hospital while Kaia went to a local doctor. Kaia died there in her grandfather’s arms.
Her spinal cord injury forced Ms. Panos to wait four hours before being transported to hospital. Her family tried to hide the tragic news of Kaia’s death from her until after her surgery, but Ms. Panos’ maternal instincts were new.
“I asked them to tell me the truth and we all broke down,” she said. “I’ve been in survival mode from that point on and probably will be for the rest of my life.”
Kayden has struggled with the loss of his sister, as Mrs. Panos says he was going to greet her “every morning with this huge hug.”
Ms Panos was hospitalized for more than three weeks, including 16 days in intensive care. She was not only paralyzed, but also suffered multiple rib fractures and damage to internal organs.
Of her daughter, Mrs. Panos said: ‘She was the most wonderful, funny, beautiful soul, who loved everything and everyone. She loved life.
She felt and still feels like sunshine. She radiated happiness.’
a GoFundMe page was set up to help Ms. Panos and Kayden recover. It has raised over $33,000 to date.