A US Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Tells His Story of SWB Survival

Darren Harrity, Helicopter Rescue Swimmer, US Coast Guard

*Special thanks to Darren for telling his story.

Being from South Florida I grew up as an avid surfer, swimmer and spear fishermen. I fell in love with the water. At age 19 during my second year of college at FAU I began thinking about joining the Coast Guard to be a helicopter rescue swimmer. Regularly I would go to the FAU college pool and train towards that dream. The rescue swimmer program requires immense underwater confidence so at the pool I would practice underwater work, this is how my shallow water black out occurred. My incident occurred on April 29, 2007 at the college olympic sized pool. Since I have no memory of that day, according to a text I sent a friend prior to going to the pool , I detailed my workout. Along with a normal swim workout, I had planned eight 50 meter under water laps with no breath, then 60 seconds treading water between laps for rest. I woke up in the hospital 5 days later. I had experienced a shallow water blackout on one of my 50 meters underwater no breath. According to the police report I was laying at the bottom of the pool when a master swimmer who was in the lane next to me realized something was wrong and pulled me out. The lifeguard came over and felt no pulse, and gave me two cycles of CPR. They were then able to feel a weak pulse. I was rushed to the hospital where they kept me in an induced coma for 5 days. My lungs where full of water and according to my parents, my neck had swollen up like an inner tube. I was put on a medical ventilator while in the coma. They performed brain scans to find any damage that may have occurred. The police report stated I was underwater anywhere from 2-4 minutes. When the scans showed no sign of brain damage they woke me from the coma. I then spent another 5 days in the hospital.

After being released from the hospital my recovery still had a long way to go. I had developed a blood clot in my arm and I now weighed only a mere 125 pounds. A lot had to be taken care of before I could go back to my normal and active way of life. I was thankful to be alive, but my dream of joining the coast guard looked grim. When I was finally able to work out and go for a run I got full body cramps but I stayed positive and worked hard. I knew I couldn't let this trauma keep me from my dream. A year later I joined the coast guard. 4 years after that I accomplished my dream and graduated with honors as a Helicopter rescue swimmer for the U S Coast Guard.