“It’s relaxing. I love doing breathing exercises,” Hassig said, adding that it is a ritual he often does and he has never had problems before. “I just like the peace of being underwater.”
This time, however, he did not reappear. Five feet below the surface, Hassig – who was the only adult home at the time – lost consciousness around 6 p.m. 16.00 on 14 June. It is unclear how long he was under water, but the boys noticed it quickly enough. His son Christian put on his goggles and saw that his father had been tossed together on his side and was lying lifeless at the bottom of the pool.
“I could see his face starting to turn blue,” Christian said. “It was very scary.”
“Dad is not okay,” he remembered shouting between tears. From that point on, “we just focused on saving our father’s lives.”
He and his twin brother, Bridon, and their neighbor, Sam Ebert, jointly pulled Hassig – who weighs about 185 pounds – up by his shoulders and brought him over to the pool stairs. Their father’s phone was locked and none of the boys had their own phones, so Christian sprinted out into the street to find help.
At the same time, Bridon began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on his father. Despite never having done so before, Bridon had recently seen the technique in two films: “Hook” and “The Sandlot” – both of which feature CPR scenes. He and his brother have seen the movies several times.
Although he was “overwhelmed and panicked” at the time, Bridon said, the films quickly came to his mind. He decided to try what he had seen on the screen and start by leaning his father’s head back and then doing chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth to the best of his ability.
“I just knew I had to do this,” he said, adding that shortly after he started making word-of-mouth, Hassig woke up and immediately coughed up foam, blood and water.
“It was probably the most emotional time of my life,” Bridon said.
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A few minutes later, paramedics arrived when Christian had spotted a driver on the street and called 911. A neighbor who is a cardiologist heard the sirens and ran over. He helped check Hassig’s heart rate and move him from the pool step to the deck.
When Hassig’s eyes opened after the disturbing event, “it was just chaos,” he said, adding that his wife was at work. “There were people everywhere.”
He was taken by ambulance to Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Ala., Where doctors diagnosed him with hypoxia (low oxygen levels in body tissues), pulmonary edema (an accumulation of fluid in the lungs) and shortness of breath.
His ailments were caused by the prolonged period Hassig spent without oxygen and he is expected to recover completely, he said. The incident was not triggered by an underlying condition, Hassig said. Doctors told him it was a result of his heart rate and blood pressure dropping rapidly underwater. After being monitored in the cardiovascular intensive care unit for 24 hours, Hassig was released to continue his recovery at home.
Although the circumstances were vastly different, Hassig’s experience was similar to that of Olympic swimmer Anita Alvarez’s recent mid-routine crisis when she fainted and her trainer dived in to rescue her. The incident happened just over a week after Hassig was rescued by his sons.
“I saw it, and when I thought about her experience, it made me cry, but it also made me grateful,” said Hassig, a chiropractor, adding that he was relieved that Alvarez also survived.
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Hassig is still recovering mentally and physically from the traumatic ordeal, he said, explaining that he was horrified by what he put his sons and their friend through.
After coming home from the hospital, he was worried that they might not want to swim again.
While Hassig said he would no longer do breathing exercises under water, he decided to jump back into the pool only about a week after he almost drowned in it.
“I have to do this. I have to show my boys that you are brave, you face your fears, and you keep going,” he said. As soon as he lowered his head, the children felt comfortable. swim again, he said. “I’m glad I did.”
“The boys are heroes for what they did,” said Hassig, who also has a 14-year-old daughter. “My 10-year-old untrained boys and their 11-year-old untrained friend, they did not freeze.”
In addition to the boys’ brave rescue that day, Hassig has also been encouraged by the overwhelming support he has received from others.
“It’s humiliating that your children saved your life, but then you see friends, neighbors and the community. People brought meals and prayers and get-fresh-cards, ”he said. “Seeing people worry, it’s been great.”
As the summer pool is in full swing, Hassig is in the process of arranging a community-wide CPR course for adults and children. His goal now, he said, is to “potentially be able to save another life” through raising awareness.
The boys are more eager than ever to learn more about swimming safety – and share their story with others. Had the two CPR movie scenes not been fresh in Bridon’s mind, his father might not have made it.
“It’s really important because you never know if it might happen to you,” Christian said. “It helps to know what to do.”
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