Key Points:

The parents of an 11-year-old girl frantically tried to keep her awake as she fell into shock after a potentially deadly stingray attack.

Laura Bradley is lucky to be alive after the attack in the lower North Island on Friday evening left her with severe injuries, including 26 stitches.

"She was coming out of the water and she was screaming," Laura's mother, Helen, said yesterday.

The severe pain hit Laura in bouts, but she went from screaming to shock. "She went very quiet," said Helen. "We were just trying to keep her awake."

The freak attack left a 3cm-long gash in her rash shirt, a 10cm gash to her right arm and a smaller cut on her right knee. Her battered body has 26 stitches, including eight internally, helping to heal the wounds.

Laura, with her mum and dad Wayne and twin 14-year-old siblings, brother Tegwyn and sister Eleri - who was beside Laura at the time of the attack - were all shaken yesterday after the shock of Friday evening's attack at Riversdale Beach, 55km southeast of Masterton.

The Woodville family had taken to its shores for a day of paua fishing at low tide. The family had been swimming throughout the day and had not seen any signs of stingrays.

Around 5pm, Laura and Eleri were playing in the sand before wading into the shallows to wash their bodies.

A wave, described as a "small ripple", washed over the girls, leaving Laura screaming and bolting towards shore.

Helen knew the deep slit in her arm and smaller laceration on her knee was bad. "I knew then that I needed help. It was way out of my league."

A St John Ambulance officer and Riversdale Surf Lifesavers patched Laura up while they waited for the Wellington-based Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

Firefighters set up a landing zone for the chopper in a nearby field.

Laura, a competitive swimmer, was flown to Wairarapa Hospital.

Yesterday, she was recovering at home but her parents know their daughter is lucky to be alive.

"Now that we think about it things could have been worse," Helen said. "You know what happened to Steve Irwin. Perish the thought - we don't even go there."

Irwin was killed by a stingray in September 2006, while snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. The stingray's barb fatally pierced his chest.

Fortunately for Laura, her stitches will come out in 10 days.

"She's stiff in the arm and leg. It will take a few days to recover but she'll be back [swimming]," Helen said. "We'll go back to the beach but we'll be a bit more aware of what's around us."

Department of Conservation shark expert Clinton Duffy told the Herald on Sunday that stingrays sunbathed in shallow water in summer. A stingray could easily lash out with its barb, he said.

"They're basically barbed knives strapped on to a lump of muscle."

If you are pierced by a stingray barb immediately seek medical help. You can also pour warm liquid - either water, tea or even urine - on to the wound to neutralise the venom.