Teen Saved From Drowning

Kylie Joson

Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY – Even when
the lifeguards are on duty, you should take caution when swimming in the ocean,
but when the lifeguards are not on duty your chances of injury or death
dramatically increase.

Last Wednesday around 8
p.m., Justin Lowe, 17, of Dagsboro, fractured his fifth cervical vertebrae
(neck) when he ran from the beach and dove into the shallow water at the Inlet

“This is the second
incident this summer where teenagers were swimming when the lifeguards were off
duty and broke their necks. In both cases, the victims survived because they
were with friends that prevented them from drowning but if a lifeguard was on
duty they possibly could have prevented further injury by stabilizing the
victims neck as they removed the victims from the water preventing drowning,”
Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) Captain Butch Arbin said.

Tim Uebel, a sergeant
for the OCBP, was the first emergency response person on the scene.

“Sgt. Falcon and myself
were cleaning up from an after-hours training session when an EMS call came to
our radios,” Uebel said. “We got the emergency call about the incident on the
beach, I got on the quad, drove to the beach and was the first emergency
responder out there.”

According to Uebel, he
immediately took over stabilization of the victim’s head and neck.

“When I was talking to
the victim, I told him to answer me verbally not to shake his head yes or no at
all because that might exacerbate the problem,” Uebel said. “He couldn’t move
his legs although he had movement and a little strength in his arms but he was
loosing that too.”

Lowe was pulled from the
water by his torso and was then laid on his back. His friends and people on the
scene prevented him from drowning because he was face down in the water and
unable to lift or turn his head to get air as a result of his injuries.

“Even though his friends
saved his life, they don’t know our Head-Neck-Back (HNB) technique to remove
victims from the surf,” Uebel said. “If they had been swimming when the guards
were on duty, the extent of his injuries could have been decreased.”

The Spinal Stabilization
Technique that Uebel refers to was developed and modified by the OCBP in
collaboration with trauma doctors to manage victims with suspected HNB injuries
and prevent further injury while removing then out of deep and or shallow

“Our beach patrol has
refined this technique over many years of training and usage from its
introduction as a technique developed in Hawaii,” Arbin said. “The modified
technique is unique to our agency but was developed with input from the medical
community and emergency providers. It has been approved by Maryland Institute
for Emergency Medical Services System (MIEMSS) as a state standard with the
Ocean City Beach Patrol as the only organization that is certified to teach
other first responders and organizations in this technique.”

Arbin said the patrol
responds to about 100 injuries every summer that are handled as a suspected

injuries. He went on to
say that the lifeguards consider the mechanics of the injury to determine if
they need to treat it as a potential spinal injury.

“Our guards are trained
to be cautious and treat the most minor potential signs of a suspected
neck/back injury as if it were the most serious. For example, if a person
approaches an SRT [Surf Rescue Technician] asking for first aid for an abrasion
on the forehead, the SRT will determine how the abrasion occurred and if it
involved striking the bottom,” Arbin said. “They will immediately begin
treating as a HNB and apply the stabilization technique because they know if
they hit the ground hard enough to cause this injury they could possibly have
an associated HNB injury. We take this approach because HNB injuries are so
dangerous and neck injuries can lead to paralysis for life even death.”