NAWILIWILI — Lifeguard Richard Mills of the Kaua‘i Fire Department Ocean Safety Bureau was glad he had his sunglasses on Friday while he waited with a group of people that included Kaua‘i firefighters, American Medical Response paramedics, physicians and nurses.
“When I saw her, I couldn’t help it,” Mills said. “I started tearing.”
Mills was the first lifeguard to respond when Wu got into trouble last Monday in waters off ‘Anini Beach.
“I just happened to be doing swimming workout with the Wainini rove unit,” Mills said. “I saw this group trying to bring in a swimmer and responded. I picked her up, carried her in and had someone call 911 before starting cardiopulmonary resuscitation. My partners that day, Chad Listman and Konstantin Dashkivich, backed me up until the rescue units arrived.”
Mills was joined by other first responders, including intensive-care-unit doctors and firefighters reuniting with Wu who was saved from waters off ‘Anini Beach.
“My chest is still sore,” Wu said, hugging and thanking every person who was gathered under the shade of palm trees outside Duke’s Canoe Club restaurant at Kalapaki Beach in Nawiliwili.
‘That means they did it right,” said Dr. Monty Downs, a Wilcox Health emergency-room physician and strong supporter of the Kaua‘i Lifeguard Association. “This is truly an ‘it takes a village’ story — everyone doing what they had to do to give this lady a second chance at life.”
According to a release from the county, lifeguards and bystanders administered CPR to Wu until Princeville firefighters and AMR personnel arrived to provide further assistance that included high-performance CPR and high-flow oxygen therapy to the patient.
“I don’t know what happened,” Wu said. “My mind is blank on everything. The water near the boat ramp was shallow and calm. The next thing I know, I’m in the hospital bed with my husband looking over me. I can’t remember anything about the water part.”
Mills said apparently Wu’s husband Brian saw turtles in the water and called his family in to watch the turtles in the shallow waters near the boat ramp.
“Although tragic, it’s a good thing this didn’t happen two years earlier,” Downs said. “We only started doing the roving patrols at Wainini two years ago, and it was a good thing Richard and his crew were there when they were. Events such as this take place in minutes, and every minute counts towards saving lives.”
Brian Golden and Wu’s sons Jacob and Justin are first-time visitors to Kaua‘i, and said they will not likely forget this trip for quite a while.
“This is the happiest vacation ever,” Brian Golden said. “We had our mother and wife drowning, but you can’t have a better outcome. We are so grateful for everyone.”
Wu said while her profession doesn’t require CPR certification, she is definitely going to be recertified in CPR.
“I have two very good sons,” Wu said. “I’m grateful that I get the ability to watch them both grow up. This is a small island with a small hospital, but everyone is so kind, attentive and competent. I can’t wait to get back to work.”
OSB Chief Kalani Vierra said this is a real-life story that brings the end to Beach Safety Week. It also celebrates the birthday of Hawai‘i waterman Duke Kahanamoku, who was born on Aug. 24. Vierra said if there was no COVID-19 all would be celebrating the Duke’s Water Festival, where Vierra would be a participant in a tandem surfing contest.