Friday, January 30, 2015

"It's A Miracle You're Alive" {A Nightmare Walk On The Beach}

The true story you are about to read happened on January 19, 2015, to my dad, Scott Hayes.
This was written by Kammy Wielenga with  help on details from the man we are forever indebted to and thankful for, Stuart Swenson.

"You should be dead.  It's a miracle you are alive," says Dr. Keerian as she puts down the reports and x-rays showing lungs filled 100% with water and low oxygen levels that were brought back to Iowa from his stay at the San Javier Hospital in Nuevo Vallarta.  For a man who has rarely shown tears in his 59 years of existence, they seem to be ever so close to the surface these days, and one slips out.  My dad has proved the Biblical quote, "There is but a step between me and death".

Exactly eleven days ago, my husband, three small kids, and I got off our plane in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico eager to join my parents, Scott and Kim, who had already been there for a week.  Our plane was early and the kids were begging to see Grandma and Grandpa.  We checked in to the Grand Mayan Resort in Nuevo Vallarta, and enthusiastically raced up to the room to surprise my parents at our earlier than anticipated arrival.  Nobody was there.  I decided to hang out in the room in case they came while the kids eagerly put on their bathing suits and headed down to the pools to have fun while they waited.  Two hours ticked by when the phone finally rang.  A thick accent on the other end told me Scott Hayes had been in an accident and was in the hospital. My heart stopped.  Knowing my dad's love of a good thrill, I immediately assumed he had done something stupid like kayaking in waters too rough or mountain biked off a cliff.

"Let's walk the beach while we wait for their plane to get in" Mom had said to Dad and they decided to head North to the sandbar where the Ameca River flows into the Pacific Ocean.  While standing on the sandbar that jutted out into the ocean, two women, a mother/daughter combo, were just coming back from wading through to the other side of where the river flows in with their hands full of beautiful shells.  "The shells are just right over there" as she points to the empty beach in front of the nature preserve, "and the water is only knee-deep!  We just went across and back - it's easy!"  My parents know they should probably start heading back to the room since we will be arriving shortly, but Dad is persuaded to cross over to get some of the beautiful shells for Mom.  Not even ten feet away from my mom and the shore, in knee-deep water, Dad steps in what feels like a hole and all the sand goes whooshing away from under his feet and out into the ocean.  Before he goes under, mom sees a look of terror on his face and hears "Kim, I can't make it!  I'm going to drown!"  There is a problem.  Dad can't swim.  She yells "face float and SWIM to me" but can't understand why he won't even try.  He goes back under and doesn't come up.  He is trapped in a vortex.  A whirlpool of fierce water where the river meets the ocean.  Mom frantically looks at the few people around her on the sandbar and pleads "Someone save my husband!  He's going to drown!"

I snapped this photo from the airplane window.  The yellow dotted line shows where Dad attempted to cross to the beach in front of the Nature Preserve.  It was low tide so there was more sand visible than this photo shows. 
Stuart and Andrea Swenson are also on vacation with their 8 year old son Landon, and family friends Pat and Tina Callan and their two sons, Carter and Cade.  They had been swimming at the Bliss pools where a woman told them that between 2:30 and 3:00 they should head down to the point of the sandbar where they would be able to see sting rays.  She convinced them it was an awesome sight.   Stuart set his backpack and the bucket of drinks down on the sand and walked into the water at the end of the point that juts out farthest into the Pacific.  The rest of the group was further back on the point, closer to the mouth of the Ameca river. He was about waist deep when he heard Andrea yelling his  name. He turned to see her about 50 yards down the beach and heard “Pat needs your help!” as she pointed towards the mouth of the river. Stuart didn't know that Pat had jumped in to try and rescue my dad.  Looking  down about a hundred yards, he saw Pat standing in chest deep water looking into the sea at a head barely visible due to the waves and distance.  Stuart's first thought was, ‘How did they let one of the boys get out that far?!’  Turning to the shore so he could make his way to them, he felt the current pulling him into the sea.  Diving towards the beach, he took a few hard strokes and went to plant his feet and lunge, but to his surprise, there was no bottom! After a struggle, Stuart managed to get back to the sand and began running down towards Pat.  En route, Tina threw Landon’s life jacket (Max 90 lbs) to Stuart.  Somewhere along the sprint, Stuart realized that the boys were all on the beach.  Looking out again, he saw just the head of a man in a torrent of river current, tidal pull, and wind swept waves. Five critical minutes had passed since my Dad had first gone under. During those five minutes, Dad says he thought he was asleep having a terrible nightmare that he couldn't seem to wake up from.  Then he would "come to" enough to grasp that it was reality and then go back into the nightmare.  Stuart dove towards the stranger and swam to him thinking he would pull him back to shore quickly, not even sure the man was still alive. However, this is where everything changed.  With one arm holding the life jacket around the man's neck and Stuart swimming with the other while kicking as hard as he could, they were rapidly being swept away from the shore.   Realization of the predicament struck Stuart.  Fear? Panic?  Settle down or die, he told himself.  Was he going to die in this attempt to save a complete stranger?  He thought of his wife and son on the beach and realized that he could never leave them in this way.  His next thought, however, was that he could never go back to them and and his friends to tell them that he let this man go.  Stuart didn't know that Andrea and my mom were holding each other and watching them float away together.  Andrea reassured my trembling mom over and over that Stuart was a triathlon swimmer and he could do this.  As she reassured my mom, she was also trying to reassure herself.   Tina had Landon, Carter, and Cade  in a circle praying for their return.

 Pat had crossed the mouth of the Ameca to move down the beach of the nature preserve  that was closer to where the two men were floating.  Pat continued to mirror them as they floated down and further out.  He was waving his arms because Stuart and Dad had floated between him and a fishing boat.  The desolation of the preserve beach most likely allowed these fishermen to take notice of Pat and then Stuart waving his arm in line with him.  For mom, it seemed like ages before the boat noticed them and turned around.  During their time in the water, Stuart asked my dad his name. “Scott, Scott Hayes, from Waterloo Iowa" and that was the extent of their niceties.  The rest of their communication was Stuart yelling at him to count, keep counting.  At one point, Dad quit breathing so Stuart resorted to threatening violence, "Wake up or I'm going to punch you in the face!" It had the desired effect and made Dad gasp.  Stuart had positioned the little life jacket under Dad's shoulders in an attempt to keep his face from submerging.  Holding the life jacket in place with his right hand gripping it and the back of his swim suit.  Then he would  use his left arm and legs to add buoyancy and wave to whomever could see them when they were on top of a wave.  Every time Stuart waved, Dad's head would go under and he'd have to yell to get him to cough the water out.  At this point, Dad's lungs were full of water and his oxygen levels dangerous low. When the fishing boat finally reached them, one of the men dove in to help push Dad up the ladder, as the other two men in the boat pulled him up.  They began the bumpy ride to the marina where an ambulance was waiting.

After the fishing boat picked them up, mom bolted for an ATV, climbed on and the driver raced down the beach towards the marina where an ambulance was waiting to take her to the marina.  She got to the fishing boat as they were loading dad onto the stretcher.  The bottom of the fishing boat that had once been pristine white was covered in Dad's bloody vomit.  She looked at Stuart,  who was just about to go over the emotional edge, and wouldn't meet her gaze.  She didn't have time for anything but a quick hug and "thank you" and they were off to the hospital.  Stuart  received a few pats on the back from the crowd that had gathered, and then was left to find his way back to his family.

About two and a half hours after the incident and two hours after our plane had touched down, we were in the hospital hugging my sobbing mom.  Dad was in critical condition in the intensive care unit, but the doctors assured us he was going to make it.  Then came the blow that even though he would probably make it,  there was the possibility of brain damage.  Thankfully, he passed all his neurological tests and can still add two and two like nobody's business.

Four days later, Dad was out of the hospital and enjoying the pools with us.  They were determined to find Stuart to express their appreciation but nobody seemed to know who or where they were.  Stuart and Andrea were flying back to Minnesota Friday morning.

The sun was just setting on Thursday when they finally had their tearful reunion.  As Stuart puts it, "Thursday afternoon we were walking down the immense beach in front of the resort when Andrea looked at an oncoming couple and said, “Kim?”.  And that was where we reunited.  Very close to the spot where the jetski had dropped me 3 days prior, quite a ways down from the point where we didn’t venture down to again that week.  That evening Scott and Kim, their daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren brought Andrea, Landon, and I out to dinner.  We prayed together, we ate together, we laughed and told stories, while our children played and giggled like they had known each other for years.  Now we are all friends on Facebook and will forever share an amazing event that could have been tragic had so many little things not gone right.  Yes, a higher power did save Scott’s life that day, and did change the lives of the rest of us too."

Stuart Swenson on the left, who's heroic efforts saved my Dad, the man on the right.

L to R: Landon, Andrea, Stuart, Dad (Scott) and Mom (Kim).  

Almost one week after the accident, at the Central Evangelico in Coapanoli (Puerto Vallarta), Salvador  Perez translated English to Spanish while Dad told the most important story of his life by paralleling it to how he almost drowned and was rescued.

When dad was a kid, his parents signed him up for swimming lessons.  Can you believe he passed the course?  How?  By faking it.  You see, he could touch the bottom.  (Hmmm, I hope his instructor isn't reading this, but they must not have been too bright?)  So while his face was in the water and his arms were doing the motions, he walked all the way across the pool and nobody ever knew he couldn't swim.  But when the real test came and he was faced with drowning in the ocean, his "faking it" failed him.  Just like so many millions of "Christians" out there in the world who are actually "faking it".  Pretending to be a christian.  Some of them probably don't even realize they are faking it.  Sincerity, however, doesn't make okay.  Dad could be as sincere as the next guy in his abilities, but that didn't change the fact that he could not tread water.   Many are hoping that if they just have enough faith, or good works, or prayers, or church attendance that they will pass the test when the end comes.  But faking Christianity is not good enough when the "real test" comes.  Death.  You have to "KNOW".  One of dad's favorite verses in the Bible is Roman's 5:6 which says "For when we were without strength, at just the right time, Christ died for the Ungodly".  When dad was in the water that day, he was completely and utterly without strength.   Helpless.  He needed a savior.  Just like us in our sins.  Helpless to do anything to save ourselves.  Just as Stuart was Dad's "savior" that day in the rough waters, the Lord Jesus was our savior.  We deserve to be in Hell to pay for our sins.  Nobody is good enough to get to Heaven when God's standard is perfection.  But he sent one to take our place.  When as a cocky 18 year old teenager my Dad came to an end of himself, in all his helplessness to make himself right with God, grabbed a hold of the life line - the Lord Jesus - and accepted what the Lord said on the cross in John 19:30 "It is finished".  No more struggling.  Jesus did it all.  Trust Him!  The only way Stuart could save Dad from drowning was for Dad to stop fighting him and trust.  He had to be completely "without strength".  Just as Dad was forty years ago as a teenager when we he was plucked from the clutches of Satan.  And also, just as Stuart had to go through the waters to rescue Dad, the Bible says in Psalm 69 of the Lord "the waters are come in onto my soul.  I sink in deep mire where there is no standing.  I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me".

I'm so thankful my dad has been "twice saved"!!

Dad says he was 100% sure he was going to die that day in the water.  But God had other plans!  Me and my Dad - thankful to have him back!

A few points of interest:

Less than a year ago, Stuart started training to be an "Iron Man" and bought a resistance pool to practice his swimming.  He says before that, he wouldn't have had the endurance to do what he did.

If Pat hadn't first jumped in to save Dad and given up, he wouldn't have crossed to the desolate beach on the other side where they eventually formed a 3 point line with the fishing boat (Scott and Stuart the middle point).

Being good swimmers, they don't usually bring life jackets with them to the beach.

They saved an hour taking a golf cart back to the hotel when they weren't supposed to, which led them to meet the woman at the pool who told them to go to that exact spot on the beach at the exact time Dad needed help.

Dad's sunglasses stayed on his head the whole time.  Stuart says "His sunglasses came off sometime on the boat and I ended up with them after he was taken away by the paramedics. Those salt spotted glasses sat on my dresser until I gave them back to your dad Thursday.  I thought of your dad a lot over those few days, but every time I looked at those glasses I got a lump in my throat."

You might believe in coincidences... but  I don't.