By Mary Landers (SavannahNow.com)
Julie Anderson Paul knew something was desperately wrong from the tone of the other mother’s voice. The 34-year-old nurse had just settled back into her beach chair after a walk on Tybee’s north end when she heard the unmistakable sound of panic.
“Help my son. Oh please, please, please.”
The possibilities raced through Paul’s mind as she pounded to the surf: seizure, shark bite or drowning.
She saw the toddler’s face, blue beneath his summer buzz cut. A swim diaper had been pulled down revealing he’d soiled himself, a dire sign to Paul, who knew that it can be the body’s last act before death.
Kneeling by the 3-year-old boy, former Southside firefighter Roy Neely had already started CPR. Paul announced she was a pediatric nurse and took over the breathing portion of the child’s CPR.
She could see that Neely had been getting air in the boy’s belly rather than the lungs so she tilted his head back and instructing a woman, who identified herself as a dialysis nurse, to continue the chest compressions with one hand, standard practice for a child.
She could taste vomit in the boy’s mouth, another bad sign.
“When you’re doing CPR, a minute is like an hour,” she said.
Paul remembers thinking about being a nurse and about being a mother. Then, with her face pressed against his, she heard him moan.
“I gave him more breaths and he opened his eyes. They rolled in the back of his head. The (dialysis nurse) said, ‘He’s got a pulse.’”
She turned the boy’s head to his side in case he vomited, but he didn’t. Then the lifeguards arrived. They had been checking on another individual north of the north beach jetties, according to the Tybee Ocean Rescue incident report filed that day.
The guards put an oxygen mask on the child and drove him on their mule to the EMTs waiting at the parking lot and an ambulance whisked him away.
Like that, the incident was over. She didn’t know the boy’s name or the mother’s name or even the names of the other rescuers.
“I went and washed my face off,” Paul said. “Then I got all choked up. People were coming up saying, ‘You’re my hero.’”
She shrugs that label off. She was doing what she was trained to do as a nurse, though in her 10 years of working on the children’s floor at Candler, she had only had to perform CPR about three times.
When kids get that sick they’re transferred to Memorial’s intensive care unit, she said.
The next day she awoke feeling like she’d run a marathon, a result of the adrenaline that coursed through her body, she thinks. She still didn’t know if the boy was OK.
“The nurse in me was thinking everything could go wrong after a near drowning,” she said. She called Memorial and explained that she was a nurse involved in resuscitating a 3-year-old boy at Tybee the day before. Was the boy there and was he going to recover?
Because of privacy laws, the nurse who answered couldn’t give out any specific information, but she did something even better. She handed over the phone to the boy’s mother.
“She was already choked up,” Paul said. She said ‘Thank you so much you saved my little boy’s life.’”
The boy’s mom turned the phone over to the little boy, whose name is Richard.
“Thank you,” he said. “I love you.”
Paul plans to help organize a CPR training, including pediatric CPR, soon.