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Surf Lifeguards at Waihi Beach Lifeguard Service were busy getting ready for the upcoming BP IRB North Island Championships they were hosting in 2019, when they noticed a surfer in trouble. Initially, it was Nathaniel who noticed a surfer who looked to be changing surfboards with another surfer at around 11.00am. He quickly realised the surfer was in difficulty so paddled over to ask if everything was okay, to which the surfer said no and that he needed urgent assistance.

It was initially unclear what was wrong but Nathaniel soon recognised the symptoms of a stroke so he shouted to Duncan, who was also out surfing, to return to shore and get the other lifeguards who were prepping equipment and briefing for the big weekend ahead back in the club and ask them to bring down first aid equipment. Nathaniel and Thomas Carter (the other surfer who is an ex-Waihi Beach Lifeguard) then began to swim the patient back towards shore, using the tow techniques taught in the basic lifeguard award, whilst also ensuring the whole way in that his airway was maintained.

The patient was conscious, breathing but unresponsive and also vomited numerous times as he was brought back to shore. Once back on the beach, lifeguards started their first aid response and asked their fellow lifeguards to call an ambulance (which had already been called after Duncan returned to shore and raised the alarm). The lifeguards also checked the patient’s airways and breathing at this point, and found the patient breathing although it was very faint, inconsistent and at times rapid and he was drifting in and out of consciousness. Matthew Lloyd, Maddie Scown, Ben Grant and Michiel Cumming were the lifeguards who arrived to scene with the ATV and Trauma Pack. By now, the patient was struggling to breathe so lifeguards immediately assisted by providing him with oxygen.

Through their findings by a secondary survey performed by Matthew Lloyd, it was found that the patient had no movement in his entire right side of body from neck down and could only respond through putting pressure on Matthew’s finger. The patient was placed on a spinal board to move up from the water line as the tide was coming in.

At 11.38am the first ambulance arrived on scene which was met by lifeguards Michiel and Jordyn. Michiel and Jordyn provided the ambulance staff with patient handover details, for which the ambulance were very grateful and this allowed them to have a better understanding of the situation, the condition of the patient, and how the patient was deteriorating. At 11.42am the patient was moved off the beach on a stretcher by Matthew Lloyd, Ben Grant, Nathaniel Palla, Hannah (junior doctor who happened to be around), Shane (firefighter), Thomas Carter and Maddie Scown up to the ambulance before being taken to Tauranga Hospital where he started his road to recovery.

A couple of days later, the patient’s mother got in touch with lifeguards to express her sincere thanks for their intervention and said: “Last Friday your team saved my son’s life. He was surfing at the beach when he had a stroke. Although you were not officially on duty, someone noticed him lying on his board and thought they should take a look. He is a Dad with a loving wife and four wonderful children. No words can express all what I want to say, so I will simply say – THANK YOU – from a very very grateful mother.”

There is no doubt that without the intervention of the lifeguards from Waihi Beach, the outcome could have been tragic for this patient.

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