Please email us your Shallow Water Blackout survivor stories at firstname.lastname@example.org! Your survivor stories can be very impactful in the prevention of these deadly occurrences by emphasizing the lack of warning. Shallow water blackouts can happen to anybody, even the most physically fit!
Summer 2010- Sea Island, Georgia
Cason Milner and his brother, Whitner, were competing with each other by swimming the length of the pool while holding their breath. Whitner could hold his breath for over 3 minutes, but his little brother did not want his older brother to beat him. Whitner easily did the 2 lengths and Cason followed. However, when Cason got out of the pool he was blue with purple lips, and he felt totally fine not realizing his hypoxia. Little did Cason know that he was seconds away from blacking out. Unfortunately, Whitner lost his life the very next Spring during breath-holding exercises. Had there been more awareness and education about Shallow Water Blackout, Whitner’s life might have been spared.
Fall 2005- San Diego, California
Brian’s story is a successful case, albeit a close call. So close, that Brian hit the brink between life and death and luckily his friend was able to revive him to life. In line with the typical profile of a Shallow Water Blackout victim, Brian is a strong, advanced swimmer and was a member of the NAVY. In his profession, Brian was required to train for diving. His training involved diving techniques, brick walking, breath-holding exercises, and hyperventilation before submerging under the water. In the Fall of 2005, after hours at one of the Navy Base pools on Coronado Island, San Diego, Brian and a few other trainees practiced their skills. Brian attempted the 50-meter brick walk, a pervasive training technique in his field. He was only a couple feet under the water and like anyone who trains intensively, had his mind set on his goal. He was to stay submerged, holding his breath and walk 50-meters underwater, without coming up for air. Committed to his underwater goal, Brain started under the water holding a brick unknowingly passing through the warning signs of Shallow Water Blackout. He remembers a strong urge to breathe. He still wanted to complete the task and forced his body to continue past his limits. He felt pounding in his head, pressure behind his eyes and in his chest and throat. This seemingly is any body’s reaction to air deprivation and it is difficult to know when training that the body is actually past its limits. The next memory of Brian’s was coughing on the pool deck. He was lucky. His friends were able to pull him out of the water in time after he had been underwater for a little over a minute. His friend started CPR. If any of the events had delayed at all, there is a good chance that Brian would not be here today. Brian suggests for other swimmers to “let someone know you’re there, know your limits and don’t hyperventilate.” While it is necessary to push limits in order to progress, he explains there are other ways to challenge oneself and build endurance and strength, such as other cardiovascular activities. “When you have that urge to breathe, it’s for a reason,” he explains. “If I didn’t have anyone with me, I’d most likely be gone.” He also advises notifying the lifeguard if attempting any training exercises. Additionally, he notes that taking a few quick breaths before training, otherwise known as hyperventilation, actually builds CO2 in the system and causes individuals to pass out quicker. Brian is an example of a success story. We need to learn from the experience he shared. Avoid Shallow Water Blackout, so others swimmers do not have close calls. Many others are not able to share their experiences because they don’t survive Shallow Water Blackout. It takes lives. Spread the word and educate about SWB, so it can’t claim any more victims.
Summer 1986- Lake Guerrero, Texas
Julian Ottley blacked out while swimming with friends in the lake in the summer of 1986. Luckily, his friends Sarah and Jim were there to save him and prevent a needless death.
Survivor’s account of the incident: “I may have tried to laugh off my “shallow water blackout” down in Mexico, but I have always recognized that I could have drowned if you (or someone) had not been there to pull me out. To me it was one of those freak experiences in life where I realize I could have died but, did not. I was very fortunate that there were people around paying attention to what I was doing. Especially Sarah who recognized there was a problem and made you quickly jump in to pull me out. What I remember about the experience was Dick Lee challenging me to swimming underwater laps, I didn’t realize it at the time but, he had been doing a lot of snorkeling in the Bahamas and had learned to control his need for H20, I guess. Anyway, as kids Dudley, Jr. & I use to always have the underwater races at the farm pool and I had never seen anyone “black out” doing it and i was pretty good at pushing the limits of it. I know hyperventilating was a trick we used to get as much air in the lungs as possible and I did that before my final race against Dick. I think, I actually swam maybe 3 1/4 laps underwater in the pool before realizing I needed to give up the race and surface for air. After that, I don’t remember anything until I “came to” at the side of the pool with a bunch of people standing over me. I remember them asking if I was alright and all I could knew was that my back was killing me from where I was dragged out of the pool over the concrete. I know I have never swam underwater laps sense, for obvious reasons, it give me quite a scare. I guess the “black out” was just that, a black out, as I don’t remember any of it? But, I do credit you (Jim Kennedy and Sarah) for saving my life, I am sure every second counts in a situation like that and I have no doubt your quick response made the difference.”
Joe Dean Lewis
Summer 1981- Grand Cayman Island (as told by Joe Dean Lewis)
My survivor story takes place in the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean. My best friend Lance and I were working on a dive boat off of Grand Cayman Island, when the accident occurred. For two years prior we had trained extensively to become the best freedivers/ spearfishermen that we could be. To increase our lung capacity our regimen included running, swimming underwater laps, blowing up balloons, breath holding at the deep end of the pool, and freediving to ever increasing depths off the coast of Southern California. We had heard of SWB from Lance’s dad Ron, a championship spearfisherman from back in the day, who had experienced it while diving alone off of Catalina Island, luckily for him he awoke on the surface with his weight belt off and snorkel still in his mouth. Being young and invincible we continued to push the limits of breath holding; going deeper and deeper, staying under longer and longer, all the while employing the extremely dangerous practice of hyperventilation. The Caribbean’s crystal clear waters made it even more tempting to reach greater depths, and not until the accident did we realize how many times we had put ourselves in potentially deadly situations. The day I blacked out I was trying to beat my personal record of 85 ft. and decided to try a 100 foot freedive. Before attempting such dives we would go through a routine of mental and physical relaxation, taking deep rhythmic breaths that would speed up right before the descent; hyperventilation to the point our faces would tingle! After reaching 15 feet or so your weight becomes negative and you start to descend quite rapidly and effortlessly. I reached the 100 foot mark then made the u-turn for my ascent; looking up from that depth is very humbling to say the least. At 50 feet I knew that I could make it but it was going to be close. Anxiously I reached the surface and cleared my snorkel, then everything went black, next thing I remember I’m coughing up sea water and Lance is calling out my name. He later recounts that as soon as I cleared my snorkel I started to sink like a rock; if not for his assistance I would have died, no doubt. That day we both learned a valuable lesson and decided not to push ourselves to those extreme limits, and to never freedive alone. We obviously made some cardinal mistakes concerning SWB for many years, and are both very lucky; we still enjoy spearfishing to this day, but always follow the golden rules:
1) Never hyperventilate
2) Never dive alone
3) Never push yourself to unsafe limits
4) Never make breath holding a competition