Victim thanks rescuers
MONCKS CORNER—Bill Hedden stared down at his plate of ribs and rice, glancing up only for the succession of well-wishers walking up to shake his hand.
The guest of honor at the Bicol Association of Charleston's annual celebration was noticeably uncomfortable with the attention and kept his face shielded with the brim of his camouflage baseball cap.
One year ago, Hedden made headlines around the world after an alligator tore off his arm as he swam in the shallows of Lake Moultrie at the Short Stay Naval Recreational Park.
The association, an organization of Filipino-Americans who hails from the Bicol Region of the Philippines, returned to the site for this year's celebration.
Doctors said Hedden might have bled to death if not for the quick action of a group of nurses and others who happened to be picnicking at the park on Sept. 16, 2007, as part of last year's celebration.
Wildlife officers later shot and killed the 12-foot-long, 550-pound alligator and recovered Hedden's arm from the reptile's stomach. But surgeons were unable to reattach the limb because of the violence with which the gator ripped it from Hedden's shoulder joint.
Hedden, 60, has never spoken publicly about his ordeal, saying he wants to maintain his privacy and keep the attention on the people who helped him that day and since.
He said he particularly shied away from publicity because he felt the media sensationalized his story.
Though he seemed overwhelmed by the attention heaped on him Saturday, Hedden said he came because he wanted to acknowledge those who rushed to his aid.
"I was very lucky," he said. "God was looking over me that day."
His wife, Linda Hedden, said the family's life has mostly returned to normal.
"We're taking everything in stride. We are doing good," she said. "We just wanted to come up here and say thank you."
Hedden, a retired U.S. Navy master chief, has returned to his full-time job as a weld inspector at Jacobs Engineering in Goose Creek, said his son, Brian Hedden.
Brian Hedden said his father is not the complaining type and has adapted well to having only one arm.
"He mows the lawn and fixes the car. He's doing just what he did before," Brian Hedden said.
Sally Ani, a registered nurse, was one of the women who rushed to plug the flow of blood spurting from Hedden's shoulder last year.
Seeing Hedden on Saturday gave her chills because she feared for his life that Sunday in 2007.
"I got scared. I thought someone was chasing him with a knife or a gun," she said.
Jo Losa Masauding, another nurse who helped Hedden, said his positive attitude about the experience and the loss of his arm impresses her most.
"I remember him saying, 'Better to change my lifestyle than to have no lifestyle at all.' I'm just so glad he made it," she said.