The clear, sparkling water in the Elgin, Illinois, YWCA pool looks inviting. Anxious to start having fun, 5-year-old Jesse Feliciano can’t wait any longer. Even though the lifeguard has not yet given permission, Jesse decides to jump in. Unfamiliar with the pool layout, however, he makes a big mistake. Instead of splashing around in the shallow end, he plunges into the deep end–and he doesn’t know how to swim.
Jesse is surprised and afraid. His feet can’t touch the bottom. Where is the bottom of the pool? He swallows water, chokes, and coughs. He looks up, but no one sees him. He starts sinking under the water.
At that moment, Max Stokes, a 17-year-old lifeguard at the YWCA, is bending down. He is not looking at Jesse. He is examining another child in Jesse’s day-care class who has fallen and scraped his knee. Max puts an adhesive bandage on the scrape and stands up.
Then he sees Jesse. Trained to always watch the pool for just this kind of accident, Max moves quickly. He dives into the pool and pulls Jesse out. Another employee, who saw what was happening, calls 911.
“I Just Acted on Instinct”
“My mind was blank,” Max said. “I just started moving. He’s a pretty big kid, but at the time, it seemed like he hardly weighed anything at all.”
When Max pulled Jesse out, his skin was blue and he was not breathing. Max began to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). “We learned two kinds of CPR in training, infant and adult,” Max said. “I started with infant and immediately switched to adult when that wasn’t working. That’s when I realized how big he really was.”
Jesse responded to the CPR by coughing and throwing up water. He was alive!
It was then that the reality of the situation hit Max. “I wasn’t scared until it was all over,” he said. “I just reacted on instinct at first.”
When the medical personnel arrived, they said Jesse didn’t have any water in his lungs, which could have resulted in further health complications. They did take him to a hospital, however, for further observation.
Max received a lot of praise for the great lifesaving job he did. An award ceremony in his honor was held by the Elgin City Council, where he was recognized for his bravery and quick action. The fire chief gave him a certificate of appreciation and said, “By the time our unit arrived, Max had been completely successful in reviving Jesse.”
The Right Training is Important
The National Safety Council reports that 4,800 people died from drowning in 1993, the latest year for which figures are available. This is a 7 percent increase from the year before.
Drowning is the second most common accidental death after car accidents. A person can drown very quickly. As water fills the lungs, the victim can’t shout for help. Drowning occurs when water in the lungs prevents oxygen from reaching the brain. Drowning can be caused by many things, from accidents in the water to muscle cramps and illness. Someone who survives a near-drowning incident in which the brain was deprived of oxygen for a length of time can become brain-damaged for life.
If you are interested in finding out how to become a lifeguard, you can call your local chapter of the American Red Cross or a Y near you. Lifeguarding courses teach lifesaving techniques with an emphasis on surveillance and prevention. You learn how to keep watch over a large group of physically active people in a constantly changing environment. Like Jesse, some of the people may get into trouble because they do not know their limitations.
You must learn not only how to perform CPR but also to prevent the need to use it by demonstrating leadership skills. These can include intervening in any roughhousing that may take place and issuing warnings about other unsafe activities. You must pass a test and be retested periodically to reinforce your skills. To be a lifeguard takes not only good skills but mature judgment. Like Max, maybe one day you, too, can save someone’s life.
First Aid in a Near-Drowning Emergency
While one person checks the victim, another should call 911 or another emergency medical service (EMS). The following CPR instructions are from the Red Cross manual.
You need special training for performing CPR.
1. Check for consciousness–gently tap or shake person and shout, “Are you OK?” 2. Shout, “Help!” 3. Roll person onto back–move person as a unit, support head and neck, place on firm surface. 4. Open airway and check breathing–tilt head back, lift chin. Look, listen, and feel for breathing for 5 seconds. If no breathing… 5. Give 2 full breaths–pinch nose shut, seal lips tightly around mouth, give 2 full breaths of 1 to 1 1/2 seconds each. 6. Check pulse–feel for pulse at side of neck for 5 to 10 seconds. If no pulse… 7. Phone EMS for help. 8. Position your hands–find notch at lower end of breastbone with middle finger, place heel of other hand on breastbone, 2 finger widths above notch; remove fingers from notch and place heel of this hand over heel of other hand; keep fingers off chest. 9. Give 15 compressions–lean with shoulders over your hands, lock your arms, depress breastbone 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches, give 15 compressions in 10 seconds. 10. Give 2 full breaths–tilt head back, lift chin, pinch nose shut, give 2 full breaths for 1 to 1 1/2 seconds each, check pulse. If no pulse… 11. Repeat cycles of 2 breaths and 15 compressions for 4 cycles. For a child, give 5 compressions and 1 slow breath for 10 cycles.