Local lifeguard saves young girl from drowning

Mila Watson

In a City where beach drownings are part of a harsh reality, and these unfortunate fatal incidents are often reported on, a near-drowning incident where a life is saved is truly a celebratory event, especially if the persistent determination of a young lifeguard is what the saving of a young girl’s life can be attributed.

Mila Watson, 19, a lifeguard at Strand Surf Lifesaving Club, was on duty on Sunday February 28, when a typical day on the beach turned out to be an almost devastating one.

Mila, from Somerset West, recalls the events on that day: “That day was one of our busiest days, we had about 2 000 swimmers in the water, and roughly 5 000 beachgoers on land, and we’d set up our normal, cordoned-off safe swimming area between the flags.”

Shortly after 2pm, Mila and her colleagues spotted a little girl lying unresponsive in the water.

“We saw this little girl in her black swimming costume lying in the water, and immediately myself and Tristan Welby-Cook, another lifeguard, ran in to get her out.

As soon as I got to her, I immediately started doing compressions, and she seemed to be unconscious,” Mila says.

Mila initially did two cycles of 30 compressions on the child, then two recovery breaths – and with having no effect, she did another 30 compressions.

Her persistence paid off, and after a couple of nerve-racking moments the child was resuscitated.

“After three cycles of compressions she started choking and coughing. She was breathing, but it was touch-and-go,” Mila shares, her great relief evident.

They then put the girl on a board and carried her back to the base where they waited for the ambulance.

“I was beyond stoked that I could save her, it doesn’t happen often,” Mila says about this joyous outcome.

Responding the question as to what went through her mind while she was doing the rescue, Mila responds: “Most of our rescues are based on instinct, so even though we are trained to know what to do, our instincts kick in and we just go with it.

“You kind of go into this zone where you keep doing the best you can, filled with adrenalin.”

Mila adds that her refusal to give up on the resuscitating efforts stems from the desire to save a life. “I just could not stop trying,” she says.

Mila Watson, a lifesaver at Strand Surf Lifesaving Club, looks out over False Bay at Strand Beach.

For Mila, becoming a lifeguard was a truly spontaneous choice. “I went for the test just for fun, passed it, and then started doing the course and once I saw how it was done, I fell in love with it,” says this dedicated young woman.

The lifeguard course was especially enticing to Mila, as it embodies two of her greatest passions: fitness, and helping the community.

Since her start, and becoming qualified in 2017, this first-year sports science, student finds being a lifeguard extremely satisfying. “Saving someone’s life really is the most rewarding thing.”

According to Mila, the sad part about being a lifeguard is when their rescue efforts are unsuccessful.

“The worst thing is that it can be psychologically tiring, especially after a drowning.”

This is where one needs a great support system and resources to take care of your mental state, at the club there are options available such as debriefing sessions, and Mila adds that “talking to your teammates really helps a lot”.

Her daily motivation? “I love being with the people here, building new friendships motivating one another, being part of a great team” – all makes it a gratifying experience.

What does she think are qualities needed to become a lifesaver?

“You need to be a people’s person, and especially need to know how to deal with difficult members of the public. You need to be fit, a good swimmer, a good runner and being a team player helps a lot.”

Mila pleads with the public to help make their jobs easier. “The public should know our beach is dangerous, so they need to know how to be safe, follow these safety precautions.

“Always swim between the red and yellow flags, if uncertain come and speak to us at the towers and ask about where it’s safe to swim,” she advises.

However, beachgoers at Strand can feel rest assured Mila and her team from Strand Surf Lifesaving Club are doing their best to keep everyone safe, watching from their towers with eagle eyes.

Mila Watson

Armand van Niekerk, club chairman of Strand Surf Lifesaving Club, expressed great pride in Mila and the team.

“I am truly proud of the voluntary lifeguards who where on duty that day… they executed the rescue to the book,” he adds.

He too, echoes Mila’s pleas with regards to swimming between the flags and unsupervised children.

“I would ask parents to please not let their children swim without adult supervision, on busy days it is difficult to watch every individual every second of the time, and a drowning can happen in seconds.”

Bolander enquired about the little girl’s condition after the incident, and Deanna Bessick, communications officer for Emergency Medical Services and Forensic Pathology Services, says the patient was transported to Red Cross Memorial Hospital and was treated there, and has since been discharged.

Surely great news for all involved in this admirable rescue effort!