Local lifesavers

GREENFIELD — While most came back from spring break with a sunburn, three local residents came back with stories of heroism.

Greenfield fifth-graders Ryan Cooksey and Kylie Drudge pulled a drowning 2-year-old from a swimming pool in Florida last week, and Mt. Vernon school nurse Michelle Shaw performed CPR on a man found unresponsive in the ocean in Cozumel, Mexico.

Both victims survived; and the three local residents say they just did what they had to do when faced with a frightening, adrenaline-pumping moment. Here’s a look at their stories.

‘It takes a split second’

It didn’t take long for Kylie Drudge and Ryan Cooksey to hit the water on their first day of spring break in Marco Island, Florida.

They were traveling with Kylie’s family, visiting her grandparents’ condominium. Their first stop was the hot tub, where the friends chatted and pointed out a dark-haired tyke toddling nearby.

“I said, ‘Aw, look at the little girl, she’s so cute,'” Ryan recalled. “And then a couple minutes later, I was holding her. She was unconscious.”

That was just one frightening moment after the girls took a splash in the resort’s large swimming pool.

They were swimming around and noticed the child floating face down, Ryan said.

“We were scared at first, and we didn’t really know what to do,” Ryan said. “We didn’t really know if she was drowning or just playing at first.”

Then, the girls to sprang into action. Kylie grabbed the 2-year-old, and Ryan helped pull her to the deck. But even then, it seemed like the adults around them were too busy to take notice.

“I was screaming that, ‘She was drowning, she was drowning,’ and no one was really listening,” Ryan said.

But soon, a man — a friend of the toddler’s parents —  began chest compressions on the girl. Her eyes were wide open, and her lips a bright purple.

The toddler spit up water. Paramedics rushed her to a local hospital.

“Her dad came back and said, ‘Thank you,’ and gave us a hug,” Ryan said.

They never heard from the family again. They don’t even know the girl’s name. But police told them later that week that the toddler was breathing on her own.

This was the first time the girls — friends for three years — had traveled together. Kelly Wensel, Kylie’s mother, held and comforted the trembling girls afterward.

“It was really hard for us to get back in the pool,” Kylie said. “And when other people were talking about it, we didn’t want to talk about it.”

Local police gave them gift certificates to thank them for their bravery. Ice cream, matching turtle earrings and a pair of key chains were their rewards.

The Marco Island Sun Times published a story about the girls, using their experience as a tool to remind residents of safety near the water and to keep children in sight. Maybe, Wensel said, it all happened for a reason.

“Who knows; it could have been God’s reminder that it takes a split second,”  Wensel said.

A real-life teaching tool

As the nurse for Mt. Vernon schools, Michelle Shaw has been teaching the importance of learning CPR for years. She instructs students on CPR by using mannequins.

But her spring break trip to Cozumel turned into a real-life teaching tool — one she’ll use for years to come.

Shaw was standing in the water when she heard a noise she didn’t recognize.

“It was kind of a shriek,” she said.

Just off the beach, Shaw saw three people pulling a snorkeler from the ocean. His body was bluish-gray, a telltale sign a person has been deprived of oxygen. Shaw, a former firefighter and EMT, rushed to help.

They carried him onto the sand, and Shaw started compressions.

A Spanish-speaking bystander also knelt down to help. He spoke enough English to assist.

“He said, ‘You compress, I breathe?'” Shaw recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, boy, a man who knows what he’s doing! Yes!”

The man’s eyes were open, but he was unresponsive, Shaw said. Still, he had a strong pulse, which gave the rescuers hope.

Shaw started another round of compressions when a French-speaking man came to help. Together, despite three language barriers, the group revived the man.

“I said, ‘Go call 911!’ Then I thought, ‘Well I don’t know if they do 911 (in Mexico).’ So I said, ‘Go get us an ambulance; go get us some help,'” Shaw said.

Eventually, a lifeguard came and administered oxygen, and the man was rushed to a hospital.

Shaw recently got a phone call from the man, a retired mechanic from Ontario. After spending two days in the hospital, he was doing well and thanked Shaw for her quick action.

Turns out, the man got water in his snorkel and panicked.

“He said, ‘I just remember panicking, and I remember waking up in the ambulance.'”

One thing’s for sure: Shaw will use the story to tell others about CPR. Since it takes emergency vehicles several minutes to drive to a victim, she said, having someone around to perform CPR within the first five to six minutes is imperative to give victims a better chance of survival.

“I’m really preaching it now,” she said.