By David Wade

BOSTON (CBS) – Saved by a shark attack. A Fitchburg man says if it wasn’t for his terrifying encounter in the ocean, he wouldn’t be alive. Eugene Finney was left cut, bruised and in pain when a shark smashed into him while he was swimming off the California coast. But it’s what happened next that has him crediting the shark, with saving his life.

“The shark was a real message to me,” Finney says. It was just a family vacation on Huntington Beach, California. Eugene, his two kids and his girlfriend were having a carefree time, but during a swim; “Something struck me from behind. I’d never been hit like that before. It was pretty jarring. It kind of gave me an instant whiplash,” he says.

It was a shark. Eugene struggled out of the water. “That’s when my daughter said to me, Daddy, how come your back is all bloody?” he adds.

Eugene Finney after the incident July 8 in California. (Photo credit: Eugene Finney)

Eugene Finney after the incident July 8 in California. (Photo credit: Eugene Finney)

He had a mean gash down his back. The beach was soon closed after two sharks were spotted. “That night I started having pretty serious chest and back pains,” he says. When he got home it only got worse, so he went to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton where emergency room doctors gave him a diagnosis.

“The pain was caused by interior bruising of the thoracic cavity due to blunt force trauma,” Eugene says. But it was what they told him next that hit harder than the shark. “They had discovered a growth, or a tumor, on my right kidney about the size of a walnut,” he says.

It was cancer. Two weeks ago Dr. Ingolf Tuerk at St. Elizabeth’s, using minimally invasive robotic surgery, took it out. “If this didn’t happen with the shark, causing me to go in with this chest pain, I would have never known about this cancer,” Finney says. “It lead to a situation that saved his life. That’s pretty fascinating when you think about it,” says Dr. Tuerk.

Eugene’s prognosis is great and he doesn’t need radiation or chemo. “I feel fortunate. I really feel like I’ve gotten a second chance at life and I’m not going to blow it,” Eugene says.

One lucky guy. He escapes a shark attack, which leads doctors to catch his cancer early and get it all out.

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