Home Commentary What the Recent Shark Attack Can Teach Us About Local Pediatric Emergencies

What the Recent Shark Attack Can Teach Us About Local Pediatric Emergencies

Photo: Erik Mclean

Most everyone in the Southern United States was shocked and broken by the recent shark attack victims in the 30A area of the Northwest Florida Panhandle. On June 7, three people were attacked by sharks in the Gulf waters near the shore. The attacks happened within a 90-minute timeframe about 4 miles from one another.


One of the victims, Lulu Gribbin, age 15, of Birmingham, Alabama, was airlifted to Studer Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola. Lulu, a ranked high-school volleyball player, suffered catastrophic injuries to her leg, resulting in an amputation. One hand was also severed during the attack.

Because of the proximity of Birmingham to Pensacola, it was no surprise to learn that many of my friends were connected to the Gribbin family through grandparents, camp friends, or the travel volleyball circuits. When her photo began circulating, another friend and I were even more saddened at seeing how closely she favored our 15-year-old daughters.

Empathy is beautiful that way. Our minds and hearts are pricked by commonalities that motivate us to help. The call to “do unto others as we would have done unto us,” echoes in our mind and springs us into action. Every mother I knew was texting, “Can you imagine?” followed by, “How can we help?”

This community is exceptional. Truly. After a post on Gulf Breeze Moms, it only took moments before the responses rolled in, “I’ll buy a gift card!”, “Where do I drop off?”, “I can donate, is there a link?” There was no hesitation with an outpouring of love. From what I understand, the family was moved and grateful.

As her mother posted on their Caring Bridge site, the Gribbins have chosen to continue Lulu’s care at a highly specialized facility in North Carolina. Lulu will forever be in the hearts of the people from Pensacola.

Every day, children from Pensacola and the entire region, enter the doors of Studer Children’s Hospital with an array of injuries, traumas, and chronic or surprise illnesses. Just a week or so ago, I wrote about my own experience with this exceptional facility. To read that, click here: https://localpulse.com/2024/05/you-cannot-hack-their-heart/. During my son’s hospitalization, I noticed that the facilities are top-tier, and the workers were professional, compassionate, and amazing! However, there was a great need for items that support families and patients.

It was easy to imagine the struggle of a family on vacation, being caught off guard by this once-in-a-lifetime tragedy and then imagining the needs they must have. There are thousands of people coming through the doors of the children’s hospital with the same needs and more. People who live in Dothan, who rode in an emergency vehicle, but cannot afford to get home. People who are hanging on to a job, while attempting to care for other children, while trying desperately to be present for a hospitalized child. Scores of families are caught off guard and unprepared for the vast needs created by an unexpected hospitalization.

Brilliantly, the new hospital was created with family support in mind. There are family lounges, with pantries and refrigerators. There are playrooms for siblings and recovering patients. But the need for basic resources, items for the pantries, toys and distractors, is great and never-ending. On seeing this need, I went to Jessica Lee, owner of Kia AutoSport of Pensacola and a community leader with a heart for helping children and families, with a plea for help.

“Could we collectively use our voices to stock these pantries, help the Child Life teams, and support families of sick children?”

Jessica was immediately on board to use her resources and reach out to help support patients and their families.

Kia AutoSport of Pensacola created a Stuff the Sportage Campaign, with an Amazon Wish List QR code of toys and items you can deliver to keep children occupied. Another QR code has a list of needed pantry items to be used by these patient families.

Donations can be mailed through the Amazon campaign’s link or dropped off at Kia AutoSport of Pensacola at 6637 Pensacola Blvd or Gallery Night, next Friday, June 21 from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Thank you to Gallery Night Pensacola for supporting this endeavor!

“Lulu has resources that so many in our community take for granted. Even with two parents, loads of friends, a church family, a volleyball team, parental income, and insurance, the need is great,” said Katherine Mitchem, former team member of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the children’s hospital, “but also imagine walking through those doors without any support. The beautiful thing about Lulu’s story is that it reminds us of the ongoing need of many families at the hospital every single day.” Katherine is a community advocate and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who worked at Sacred Heart Hospital from 2000 – 2022.

In addition to the QR codes featured in this story, social workers and nursing staff are also in need of gift cards to restaurants near the facility, Wal-Mart or Target gift cards where patient families can quickly acquire basic needs, and cards for gas and travel expenses.

If you have children at home this summer, encourage them to host a lemonade stand, print out and post the QR codes to their lemonade stands, or use their funds to purchase items for donation.

Together, our community can continue the tidal wave of support for every child who enters the hospital.

Lulu Gribbin, twin sister Ellie, and the entire Gribbin family – all of Pensacola are in your corner and cheering you on to complete recovery!