Jeffrey Heim was diving in Myakka River during attack

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. – A Florida man who was attacked by an alligator while diving for shark teeth says he’s lucky to have survived the ordeal with only a skull fracture and staples to his head.

It was only about a minute or so after Jeffrey Heim submerged himself into the Myakka River on Sunday when the reptile attacked. At first, he didn’t know what happened.

“I thought I got hit by a propeller, it hit me so fast,” Heim told WFTS. “It felt like a boat was going 50 mph.”

He soon realized both his head and his hand were injured and that a gator was to blame.

“I look up and the gator’s just looking at me about four feet in front of me,” he told WBBH. “Then he started coming at me. I just learned from dealing with sharks, you don’t wanna act like prey so you don’t wanna move too fast. So, I started slowly moving away.”

He was able to back off before another bite but he still suffered a skull fracture and required nearly three dozen staples. Witnesses in the area called 911 and an ambulance arrived within minutes.

“I’m lucky it didn’t death roll,” he said. “I’m lucky it didn’t get an arm, or a hand, or my face, or my neck, or my leg or literally anywhere else.”

His skull was strong enough to withstand the reptile’s teeth but had it chomped down on another part of his body, he may not have survived the encounter.

“Because of the bite force on those animals, he could have got me anywhere else and I would have died,” Heim said in the WFTS interview.

Heim was in the water that day searching for megalodon teeth to make into jewelry that he then sells. He donates a portion of the proceeds to conservation efforts.

He said that as an experienced diver and a commercial fisherman, he should have known to avoid the Myakka River during alligator mating season, which lasts from May to June.

“I was in its territory,” Heim said. “I didn’t weigh the risk to the rewards. Technically it’s gator mating season, so this was probably a female protecting her eggs.”

He plans to stick to diving in the Gulf of Mexico from now on as he counts his blessings.

“I’ve never cried so much in my life,” Heim told WFTS. “And not from the pain, just from the realization of what I’ve gone through and how I was literally an inch away from death.”

He set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical expenses.

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