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15-year-old Alex girl rescues drowning swimmer

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By Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press

With not even one year of lifeguarding experience under her belt, Taylor Anderson had to use her skills to save someone's life at the Discovery Middle School pool in Alexandria.

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Anderson, a 15-year-old sophomore from Garfield who attends Jefferson High School (JHS), was lifeguarding at DMS during a Special Olympics swimming event on March 10.

"It was just a normal day of lifeguarding," said Anderson in an interview Monday afternoon. She is employed through Lakes Area Recreation as a lifeguard and works at the DMS pool when there are special events happening other than school sporting events.

She became a lifeguard less than a year ago and participates in refresher courses every month.

Here is a recap from Anderson of what happened the day she saved a life:

As she was surveying the water, watching the Olympians bob up and down in the water, some in the deep end, Anderson saw one particular athlete, Brad Fuoss, 23, of Alexandria, go under the water, but not come back up.

She stood up to get a better look and noticed that he was sinking to the bottom of the pool.

"I paused just a little," she said, "and thought, 'What do I do?' "

But all the training and the refresher courses came back to her. As she grabbed a rescue tube, a man, who was watching the swimming event, also noticed the distressed swimmer and started talking to Anderson.

Although she had her swimsuit on, Anderson also had her uniform on, including pants and a shirt, which she didn't even take off as she jumped into the pool.

"I kept thinking, 'I have to help him. I have to help him. I have to help him,' " she explained.

Diving down to the bottom of the pool, Anderson had to let go of the rope that was attached to the tube because she said, "I'm too short."

Once she reached the bottom - at the depth of 12 feet - she noticed that Fuoss was having a seizure. She described his body as being "rock hard."

As she pulled him to the surface, the spectator, whom she talked to earlier, helped her get Fuoss out of the water.

"It was very hectic," Anderson described of the scene.

She said they put Fuoss in the rescue position, although she noted that his body was still rock hard and his color was bluish-purple.

Checking his pulse, Anderson couldn't find any.

"He was dead, in a sense," she recalled, but knew that she had to do whatever she could to try and save him.

Anderson asked the group of people who had formed around her if anyone knew CPR and a special education teacher from JHS, Sarah Golden, said she did and assisted Anderson in her efforts.

After two to three minutes of administering CPR on Fuoss, Anderson said he gasped for air, but that more CPR was needed because he stopped breathing again.

After what seemed like a few more minutes, Anderson said the athlete started breathing again, and very slowly, his color started coming back. She remembered from her training that the patient needed to be rolled on his side, which was helpful because just as she thought, he started to vomit.

Within minutes, Alexandria police officers were on scene, as well as North Ambulance personnel.

When asked what she did after rescue personnel arrived and took over, Anderson simply said, "I walked over to a corner and started to cry. After I realized just how serious this was, I started bawling."

After she was done crying, Anderson said she talked to a police officer, who reassured her she did everything right.

The police officer collected her information, including her home phone number. Anderson lives with her grandparents, William and Rosalea Anderson.

That evening, her grandmother got a phone call she wasn't expecting. Anderson wasn't home at the time and her grandparents had not yet learned about her exciting day.

The police officer told Rosalea that her granddaughter did a great job, did everything right and that she was quite brave for a 15-year-old. The officer also said Fuoss was in the hospital and that he would be just fine.

"My grandma was surprised by the phone call, especially because it was the cops," Anderson chuckled. "But they are very proud of me."

Her grandparents aren't the only ones who are proud, Anderson's boss at Lakes Area Recreation, Kelly Wencl, is also proud.

"She's an outstanding lifeguard," said Wencl, who notified the newspaper of Anderson's heroic deed. "I am honored to have her on staff. She is not only a role model for my staff, but for her colleagues and peers and the whole community."

Wencl noted that this was the first near-drowning incident that Lakes Area Recreation lifeguards have handled.

Two days after the incident at DMS, Anderson lifeguarded again at DMS, but said that Wencl was there with her.

"It was nerve-wracking," said Anderson, adding that she plans to continue lifeguarding at DMS, although she has no intentions of lifeguarding at any of the public beaches.

"It was scary," she said, still visibly shaken about the incident. "His life was in my hands. I wished it would have never happened, but it did, and it changed my life."

Anderson then shared some sound advice, "Be aware of the people around you. If you think something is wrong, ask. Ask if everything is OK."

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