Debbie Shoemaker used to enjoy photographing pelicans while visiting Florida.
But the West Toledoan's affinity for the large shorebirds changed Thursday afternoon when a pelican flew into her face while she was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
"The waves were rough, and I was splashing around, acting like a kid," the 50-year-old Mrs. Shoemaker said.
The bird was likely diving for fish, Florida authorities said, as it accidentally struck her on the left side of her face. Its beak tore through her cheek, and the wound required 25 stitches.
"I quickly put my hand up to my face and the blood was just gushing," she recalled.
The bird later died because of the impact, she was told by witnesses and authorities. Florida authorities said it may have been the first time a person was hurt by a pelican.
Mrs. Shoemaker, a housecleaner who vacations in Florida twice a year, cut her weeklong trip short and returned home Friday. She intended to stay in Florida alone through Mother's Day, her first trip since her mother's death.
"I wanted to be by myself on Mother's Day," she said. "I knew the message at church would be about mothers, and that would be too hard for me."
She first vacationed in the St. Petersburg area with her parents as a child and later traveled there alone "just to get away and relax by myself," she said. Now, 40 years after her first trip there, she doesn't know if she'll go back.
"I definitely will be afraid. I definitely will. I definitely will take somebody with me," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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