ER physician: Survival is rare after 10 minutes under water

ER physician: Survival is rare after 10 minutes under water

Andrew Carlson was walking back to his family's condo in Surfside Beach Saturday night, when he saw police on the beach shining lights into the water, searching for a missing swimmer.

After a few minutes, Carlson saw the 14-year-old swimmer bobbing on the crest of a wave.

"He went under and a bunch of guys dove in and tackled him and brought him up to shore and they put him on a gurney and did hard CPR, giving him oxygen," Carlson said.

Carlson says he hopes the teen will be OK, but Dr. John Charles, director of medical affairs at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, says the odds are against someone who's been under water for more than ten minutes.

Charles say it helps that the swimmer in this instance was young, but his prognosis is still not good. Even if the swimmer survives, Charles says the teen could still suffer what's called hypoxic brain damage.

"I suspect that someone like this and I've seen cases like this where we can resuscitate the heart, get the kidneys going again, but the brain damage is the thing that makes it worse," Charles said.

Charles says a person can drown by having too much water in their lungs, or by having a spasm in their larynx, which shuts down, preventing oxygen from reaching the lungs.

He says drowning victims often fit into two age categories: adults, who may suffer fatigue or engage in risky behavior, and kids, who may not be skilled swimmers.

"They come to the beach, kid doesn't know how to swim, but Mom and Dad see him splashing around, having a good time and then he gets tired, panics, goes to the bottom."

Charles says even when kids are supervised at the beach, bad things can happen very quickly. He says he doesn't go into the water if the waves are rough, because it's not worth the risk.