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CPR + Epilepsy

Today I saved the life of a drowning boy with epilepsy.

I was swimming near a dock on Lake Ontario and there was a family of 3 swimming near me. A father, his teenage daughter and his 7-year-old son. The daughter and father were swimming along the dock while the son was on a plastic raft normally used in pools. The father was keeping a careful eye on his son, but he and his daughter kept going further out along the dock and the boy was paddling around happily on his raft closer to the shore.

At the time it happened I was seated on the dock, my legs dangling in the water.

I heard a scream and looked up to see the boy had fallen off the raft and was flailing about wildly in the water, his face down in the water. Things happened pretty quickly after this.

I pushed myself off the dock and waded out to the boy, grabbing hold of him and raising his head up above the water. The water there wasn't actually that deep, it was only up to my chest, but still pretty deep for a 7-year-old. He kept thrashing about in my arms however and at the time I couldn't figure out why.

I struggled with him and carried him over to the dock, keeping his head above the water. By the time I reached the dock and laid him down on it there was an older woman there and she was saying he was having an epileptic seizure.

Now the problem was that I had never dealt with epilepsy before and had ZERO training in what to do, and simultaneously I was pretty sure the kid had swallowed a lot of water during the time that he was face down in the water and thrashing about. He did not appear to be breathing.

So what I had to do was perform CPR while simultaneously holding the kid down because he was thrashing about a lot. Not an easy task at all.

His seizure stopped part way through and then he just lay there still and for a moment I thought he was dead since he still was not breathing.

The old woman urged me to keep doing CPR however and within moments - very long heart breaking moments - he spat out some water and was breathing again. He was conscious again a minute later (response to CPR treatment is much slower in real life, the stuff on TV is sped up for dramatic effect).

Note: According to my research after the fact there is some debate about what to do first in the event of a seizure + drowning. Normally with a seizure victim you're not supposed to restrain them or perform CPR, you're just supposed to remove dangerous obstacles so they don't injure themselves. However with drowning + seizure they say you aren't supposed to perform CPR unless they aren't breathing - which he was not - but they don't say exactly HOW to perform CPR on a thrashing non-breathing drowning victim. I guess we're just supposed to do our best under the circumstances. Thankfully his seizure stopped part way through, otherwise I am not certain the CPR would have been successful.

At some point during all this the father and daughter had run down the dock and arrived at the boy's side. I was too busy to notice. Once he was breathing properly and conscious however he was the recipient of hugs and they kept thanking me repeatedly.

Afterwards they kept asking if I wanted anything, money, if they could take me out to a restaurant, give me a ride home... and I said they should take their son to an emergency room right away. The father apparently thought the worst was over and everything was safe now. This discussion turned out to be moot however as the older woman had called an ambulance on her cell phone... and then a fire truck showed up first (first response tactics) and then followed by an ambulance and a police squad car...

What disturbed me is that the father insisted that this was the first time the son had had an epileptic seizure, but the kid had a medical alert bracelet on his arm. I didn't get time to check it so it might have been for something else, but I have a hunch this was not the boy's first seizure. The daughter was too quiet and looked away a lot which makes me think the father had allowed the boy to go swimming even though people with epilepsy aren't even supposed to take baths because they could have a seizure and drown. Swimming for epileptic people is a big no-no.

I must say I am extremely thankful for my St John's Ambulance training I took years ago.

Which is why I would like to take this moment to encourage people to take some courses either in life guard training, St John Ambulance or both. Certainly doesn't hurt to have the training should it ever be needed.

I just wish they told you what to do in the event of a drowning person with epilepsy. I don't recall it being mentioned in the training, but according to my research later today what I did was in the correct order. Drowning takes precedence because you have to ensure the person can breathe first.

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