Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Friday, November 30, 2001

Oahu lifeguards offer
free classes in vital CPR

When I was 8 years old and learning to swim, I stood at the deep-end edge of a public swimming pool, held my nose and tried to persuade myself to jump in. Today, 45 years later, the sounds, smells and colors of that moment remain vivid, playing over and over in my brain like a never-ending horror movie.

The scene is so clear because while standing there trying to conquer my fear, I spotted my 4-year-old brother lying motionless at the bottom of the pool.

I screamed. Then my mother screamed. Then everyone at the pool screamed.

But not the lifeguard. He dove into the water, grabbed the little boy and practically threw him onto the concrete deck. Leaping from the pool, the lifeguard then yanked my brother up by the ankles and shook his limp body.

A shocking amount of water fell from the child's mouth and nose, and my mother screamed again. But then a miracle happened: My brother coughed.

The lifeguard had saved him.

Unfortunately, not all stories like these have such good endings. This is particularly true here in Hawaii, where the rate of recreational drowning is the highest in the United States. Each year, about 60 people drown in our state.

Two-thirds of them are residents; 10 percent are children. A study by the Honolulu Parks and Recreation Department revealed that about 70 percent of Hawaii's children, ages 7 through 14, cannot swim across a swimming pool. But even for us strong swimmers (yes, I finally got the courage to jump), the Pacific Ocean is a formidable force.

The good news is that drowning is an accident in which lifeguards and average citizens can do far more than paramedics or emergency doctors. In drowning, the time to save a life is at the beach or poolside.

That doesn't mean, however, you should hold a drowning victim upside down. This maneuver was standard first aid in 1956 when my brother nearly drowned, but it's not what saved his life. The lifeguard hauling him out of the water so fast is what did it.

Today we know that tipping drowned people head down or performing the Heimlich maneuver (the thrust you give choking people) does no good. Early cardiopulmonary resuscitation is the key to saving the lives of near-drowning victims.

And the CPR numbers are encouraging. Victims who have been underwater for less than five minutes and begin breathing on their own within 10 minutes of rescue breathing nearly always survive.

This means that we bystanders can't stand around waiting for a lifeguard or an ambulance. We must start rescue breathing as soon as a victim is out of the water. Sometimes, rescue breathing is even possible while bringing the victim to shore.

Oahu's lifeguards know these and other lifesaving techniques, and are among the most competent marine rescuers in the world. But they can't be everywhere at once, and therefore, are offering to share their skills with us, for free, this weekend.

Tomorrow, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sunset Beach Elementary School (59-360 Kamehameha Hwy.), North Shore lifeguards will give CPR classes.

These begin on the hour throughout the day.

On Sunday at noon, in a tent on Sunset Beach, lifeguards will demonstrate surf lifesaving and kite-board safety. For information, call 638-0230.

My 12-year-old nephew and I plan on going to these sessions. We want to be able to give a terrifying story a happy ending.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears weekly in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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