Lifeguards are Never Really Off Duty

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In New Zealand, James Tuhikarama was paddling out to catch a wave at a surfing competition when all of a sudden he began to have a heart attack, which knocked him off his surfboard. He lost consciousness, fell into the water and was soon floating facedown in the ocean. For a few moments, no one noticed as he drifted away from the main competition area.

Hira Edmonds, a young lifeguard and an instructor, was teaching other lifeguards the points of rescue on the second floor of a building overlooking the competition.

While he was teaching, he took a glance out the window and saw someone in a wet suit laying facedown and motionless in the water. “It doesn’t take much to realize someone’s in trouble,” says Edmonds. “Lifeguards are never really off duty.” Edmonds got together a team of lifeguards in the building, grabbed first aid, and ran down to the water.

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The lifeguards dragged Tuhikarama, who is 47 years-old and a father of two, to the beach. More than a dozen rescuers took turns pumping oxygen and performing chest compressions on the unresponsive surfer.

For nearly an hour—far longer than a single lifeguard would have been able to continue the lifesaving technique—the team continued CPR. An ambulance finally arrived and took Tuhikarama to the hospital, where he spent a week in intensive care in a medically induced coma while his brain and heart healed.

A month after his release, Tuhikarama reunited with six of the teenage lifeguards who saved him. He told them thanks and that he has been given a second chance.

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