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updated: 10/17/2013 8:02 AM

Chicago couple help rescue woman in wheelchair from water

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  • Ludington, Mich., emergency personnel respond to a call of a woman in a wheelchair falling off the north breakwater and into Lake Michigan near Ludington's North Breakwater Lighthouse Tuesday.

      Ludington, Mich., emergency personnel respond to a call of a woman in a wheelchair falling off the north breakwater and into Lake Michigan near Ludington's North Breakwater Lighthouse Tuesday.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

LUDINGTON, Mich. -- A couple from Chicago visiting western Michigan to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary helped rescue an Ohio woman in a wheelchair who fell into cold Lake Michigan.

Joanne Burkhart, 61, of Rootstown, Ohio, was visiting Ludington's North Breakwater Lighthouse around midday Tuesday when her husband let go of her wheelchair to take a photo, the Ludington Daily News reported . A wind gust sent Joanne Burkhart and the wheelchair into the water.

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According to police Chief Mark Barnett, 68-year-old Walter Burkhart reached his wife, who was face down in the water, and held her so she could breathe. Fred Strubin, of Chicago, got into the water to help get her out and his wife, Debbie, tried to call 911 and ran for help.

"When we came up ... the wheelchair was in the water and he had gotten her part way out of the water," Fred Strubin said. "He was still in the water trying to push her out and she was on a rock except for her legs and she had a bloody gash on her temple."

Joanne Burkhart was treated and released at an area hospital, and the Strubins provided her with comfort before rescue crews arrived, holding her out of the water and covering her with a jacket. Fred Strubin is a former firefighter and worried she might go into shock.

"We tried to get her up but she was waterlogged and shivering -- I felt so bad for her because she was so cold and shivering," he said.

Fire and police from Ludington responded, along with EMS and the U.S. Coast Guard. The responders transported Joanne Burkhart to a waiting ambulance while a Ludington police officer helped her husband out of the water.

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