Salena Gonzales

It was a hot August day in Key West, Florida. We were in the pool swimming around, enjoying the live band. We decided to take one last trip that summer and Key West seemed to be the perfect spot. It was a super hot weekend. We had been swimming all summer. Hopping into the pool was nothing new. Salena, 14 at the time, was competing with her father (Jeremiah) as they had all summer long. No matter what pool they were swimming in they competed to see who could swim underwater back and forth the most. She had gotten really strong and took every moment when not competing to try to hold her breath a little bit longer. She had just proven a few nights before that she could hold her breath for just a little over three minutes. So here’s how it worked; everyone who wanted to compete could. The rules were simple – swim back and forth as many times as you could and you earned bragging rights that day or until someone else beat you. To push the competition to the next level Jeremiah decided it would be a good idea to hyperventilate before his turn and that would give him an edge on everyone else. Salena was soon to follow suit.

This hot day in Key West wasn’t much different than the others that summer. The only real difference was the only ones who wanted to play this day were Salena and Jeremiah. It wasn’t a very big pool but it was full of people. So the competition began. Jeremiah went, Salena went immediately after Jeremiah, and so on and so forth. This went on for a good bit without much rest in between.

We had a long ride home and still had to pack our room, and the other children were done swimming for the day. I told Jeremiah we should get going. He stated Salena wanted to go one more time. That was fine, it gave me time to gather the rest of the kids. I was on the side of the pool gathering everyone’s goggles when Jeremiah turned and tapped me and said look at this. I no longer had my goggles on and what he was pointing to was under the water. I ignored him. He then again, more persistent this time said to look. Frustrated, I put my goggles on and looked under the water. I came up and said “what is she doing?” Jeremiah, replied “she looks like she is dancing,” I immediately started swimming to Salena. It was only a short distance from where I started but it felt like slow motion. I knew something was wrong. She was thrashing with her fist clenched and her goggles we suctioned to her face so tightly and her eyes were closed. I signaled to Jeremiah who was right behind me and we began to pull her to the side of the pool. The pool was 5.5 feet deep. Since we are not tall people that changed the game a bit. We struggled to get her up. I jumped out of the pool and began to pull as Jeremiah pushed with each time. She slipped from us. I screamed for help and a gentleman came over and helped push her up. We dragged her a few feet from the edge of the pool. She was foaming at the mouth, her lips were purple and she was shaking. She was not breathing. I was able to get a guy to call 911 for us as Jeremiah started performing CPR. I then turned and made sure the other children were out of the pool. I stood and watched my husband and another woman perform CPR on her as she lay there lifeless. After a few minutes she took a breath. They sat her up and as I sat in front of her she stared at me with confusion, as a child does who is sleep walking and doesn’t know how they got to the kitchen. I asked her a few questions, and got blank stares in return. She then started gasping for air and crying that she couldn’t breath. Jeremiah was behind her, I and the woman who helped with CPR were in front of her. Salena started to get angry that we were so close to her and started shouting to get off of her. She was beginning to panic. The woman and I looked at each other and said “we can’t let her get up!” Salena then started to scoot closer to the edge of the pool and we all began to pull her back. She was dazed and confused and started to express how sick to her stomach she was feeling. She began to dry heave. The man who called 911 graciously gave her his chair. Moments later the paramedics came and hooked her to some oxygen and hooked her to the gurney. The paramedic asked some questions and knew right away what had happened. She told us that she’d had a Shallow Water Blackout. She explained a little to us what that meant. Then we headed off to the ER.

Jeremiah later said he remembers her swimming her last lap and two ladies had walked in front of her. It appeared as if Salena come up for a breath and then went back under the water, which was typical for her to do. When she didn’t come back up is when he then went under to see what she was doing and that’s when he came up and wanted me to look at her.

Salena says, she remembers getting to her last lap and knew she was about to win but had to stop for the ladies and that’s the last thing she remembers before we were all surrounding her and asking her questions.

In the ER she didn’t fully understand what had happened to get her there. I had to tell her that she blacked out under the water.

We later learned that the hyperventilation was a huge contributing factor in this. Her brain wasn’t able to regulate her CO2 levels properly.