Wake Forest teen, local lifeguard use lifesaving techniques to save woman, toddler in separate incidents
By David Leone
EMERALD ISLE — In a month’s time, two locals have saved the lives of a toddler and another woman in the resort town on the Carolina coast.
The town of Emerald Isle honored Wake Forest 17-year-old Katie Nickels for using CPR to restore breathing of a 3-year-old July 2. Also, in late May, Wakefield YMCA lifeguard Sinclaire Owen pulled a woman out of the ocean, likely saving her life.
Nickels was vacationing with her family at a rented house in Emerald Isle when the incident occurred.
“I had just come in from swimming. My older sister was lying by the pool. She heard screaming,” she said.
A woman ran over from an adjoining house and asked if Carly Nickels knew CPR. She immediately came for Katie, who has been certified multiple times.
The woman’s daughter had fallen into the pool. The 3-year-old Lilly was not breathing and was turning blue.
Nickels performed two repetitions of CPR, which consists of 30 chest compressions and two breaths into the mouth. The second time, the child began breathing. The breathing was labored, but her pulse was strong.
Nickels said she tried not to panic: “I figured if I freaked out everyone else would. So I stayed calm.”
While awaiting for EMS, a vacationing nurse who was staying nearby also came to help. The girl was expected to recover fully.
CPR training for children is different than for adults. Nickels knew to only use three fingers to do chest compressions to avoid hurting the child, for instance. She’d learned CPR initially when taking a babysitting class with a friend and has twice been certified.
She was awarded with a plaque and honorary membership into the Emerald Isle rescue services before she returned from vacation.
Seconds count when the brain loses oxygen, and Nickels’ action may very well have saved the toddler’s life, Emerald Isle Town Manager Frank Rush said he was told by EMS techs.
“We are extremely thankful that Katie was in the right place in the right time with the right preparation,” he said.
Nickels said she doesn’t need any recognition.
“I was just glad I was able to help Lilly,” she said.
The rising Wake Forest High School senior moved to Wake Forest a little over a year ago from Tennessee with her family. This was the first time she was able to use her CPR training, but she’s making sure she’ll be ready if the need arises again.
“I already talked to my mom and we all are going to get re-certified,” she said.
Lifesaving mode kicks in
Owen, too, was vacationing in Emerald Isle when called upon to use her training as a lifeguard.
She was with her two best friends tanning on a private beach when she heard someone yell “911!” and saw people running toward the water.
A woman’s head was bobbing in the water, perhaps 100 yards out. There was no other lifeguard in sight.
“It was like instant lifeguard mode kicked in,” Owen said. “I yelled ‘I’m a lifeguard!’ and I swam out to her.”
The unidentified woman, in her 40s or 50s, was choking on the water but still conscious.
“She grabbed onto me. I kept her afloat long as I could,” said Owen. “The rip current was incredibly strong. She said she’d just been jumping in the waves and was pulled out. Nobody in her family could swim.”
Pulling against the current was difficult, but Nickles worked at it a few strokes at a time, eventually getting the woman close enough to the shore where she could stand. Then a surfer helped out using his board to help them fight the current. A lifeguard also arrived on a jet ski and brought the woman in.
The ordeal lasted five or 10 minutes, but was exhausting, she said.
“It was so difficult. I went back into the beach house and laid down a couple of hours,” Owen said.
The woman was all right. “She wasn’t even taken to the hospital. It was a very lucky day,” said Nickels. “I’m just so thankful I was there.”
Owen, 20, is a Zebulon native and is studying psychology at Meredith College. For three years she has been a lifeguard at both the Banks Kerr Y and in Wake Forest at Camp Kanata.
Though she’d never had to save a life before May, she jumped in after a kid two weeks ago who had gone under, helping him out before he was injured.
She and a group of friends learned to be lifeguards together. She intends to continue at the pursuit through college and graduate school.
“You just have to be really responsible. It takes a lot of concentration. I like tasks like that. Having the skills to save someone’s life — it sounds like a lot of pressure but I really enjoy what I do. It’s a great job and I really enjoy it.”