Rescue at Coogee Beach

As this is the last week to see the Rescue exhibition, we thought we’d share a recent interview with Cassandra Scott, who experienced rescue first-hand at Coogee Beach, reiiterating the vital role our emergency services organisations play in keeping us safe.

Photo of Cassandra Scott

Cassandra was rescued by complete strangers at Coogee Beach in 2012.

Tell us about your rescue experience. What happened?

On 12 December 2012 complete strangers worked together at Coogee Beach to rescue me, to bring me back to life after I had drowned and was without a pulse for 15 minutes. A stranger, Neil pulled me out of the surf at Coogee beach where I was floating face down, with no pulse, blue and bloated with lips of deep purple. Olivier, another stranger came to help assisted by another and they worked together, laying me on my side, clearing my mouth and pumping my lungs.

Olivier had sounded the alarm running up the beach shouting, “Blue Lady. Blue Lady”.  A surf lifeguard called Luke who had been in the job for just six weeks, ran towards us, assisted by another lifeguard, Matt. Neil and Luke knelt down and began CPR.  Olivier brought oxygen and a defibrillator from the lifeguard office to the beach.  Matthew, another stranger who happened to be an off-duty physician, began administering oxygen.  Luke kept pounding away on my chest with more water shooting from my mouth – there with so much water and foam inside me I looked six months pregnant.  Luke kept pounding and pounding.  Minutes passed. Still no pulse. Luke’s arms were cramping but he kept going.  Neil held my hand and assured me, repeatedly: “It’s going to be OK; it’s going to be OK.”  The defibrillator was activated but couldn’t get a reading.

The growing crowd of strangers were all working together to help save me, the blue lady on the beach. Neil, holding my hand felt a pulse, a faint ‘boom-boom’ and then another one, ‘boom-boom’ and then in a big rush my heart starting beating, ‘boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom’.  The blue lady had come back to life.  The paramedics arrived.  After a shot of adrenaline I was bundled off in an ambulance and taken to the Prince of Wales hospital.

Luke, Neil, Matt, Matthew, Olivier and the group of strangers were left on the beach.  On a ventilator in ICU, I regained consciousness.  That’s when I saw the frightened faces of my family and friends, some of whom had flown from interstate.  Everyone, including the brilliant doctors and nurses, were amazed I was alive and speaking. The word ‘miracle’ was used a few times.

The MRI showed no brain damage.  The chest x-rays showed the water subsiding. After tests for cognitive and motor skills, I was safe to go home, five days after I had died and been brought back to life.

Has the experience changed anything in your life? Or the way you approach things now?

The experience has fundamentally changed my life and the fears I once had, about death, epilepsy, autism and more. I now have the courage accept many things  –  my responsibilities, my dreams and my hopes.  Thanks to the courage, vigilance, and generosity of strangers, working together, I now live, giving me the opportunity to spend my remaining life addressing fear held by me and others, to the best of my ability.

We all have afflictions and fear.  In that sense we are all the same, just different. By talking about them, we can break through cages of fear, mitigate dangers and enrich our lives.

I am a professional writer and now have the courage to write about topics that may be considered taboo.  The first of which is a digital book on autism that that my now 10 year-old autistic son illustrated. The book is called, ‘My Name is Max, I have Autism’, explaining autism in kid’s language, at the heart of which is being the same but different.   I have been working with Randwick Council to encourage a greater deployment of resources for lifeguards at our beaches in the hope that others can be as lucky as me.

Do you have a message to share with your rescuer?

I have had the tremendous privilege of meeting or getting in touch with most of my rescuers: Neil, the man who found me in the water; Olivier, a man from Belgium who had left Sydney the following day, connected on Facebook; Luke, the lifeguard and his colleague Matt; and, Matthew, the off-duty physician.  There are others I haven’t met, or was too out of it to recall, the off-duty nurse, the man who helped Olivier and Neil get me out of the ocean, the ambulance team, the ICU team and no doubt more.

My message to all of my rescuers is that they comprise the company of strangers that worked together to save my life. I will always be in their debt as I have them to thank for being alive and remaining a mother to my son.

While I was in hospital I had a series of doctors at my bedside that could not believe that I was firstly brought back to life but secondly, more amazingly, returned without loss of my mental faculties. I have these strangers, my rescuers, to thank for that and more.

I unreservedly thank and applaud all of my rescuers, from the bottom of my now beating heart.

Do you have any advice for our readers?

While some of us, like myself, are tremendously lucky to have been rescued from death before our time, death, eventually for all of us, is not an unavoidable condition. Make every day count.

My experience has reinforced my belief that we should make the most of every moment we live: to spend time with friends that understand us for who we think we are; to discern what we can mould and where we need to accept what cannot be altered; to forgive and be tolerant of difference; to learn from love, sorrow, books, art, travel and music; to accept that not everything which makes us feel better is good for us, and, not everything that hurts us is bad; and, to ultimately be honest with ourselves.

Cassandra Scott, May 2013.

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