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updated: 7/26/2014 7:31 AM

Memorial service set for mom who saved boy

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  • Karen Wessel, of Arlington Heights, died July 22 after saving a 9-year-old boy, from drowning in a northern Wisconsin lake.

      Karen Wessel, of Arlington Heights, died July 22 after saving a 9-year-old boy, from drowning in a northern Wisconsin lake.
    COURTESY OF Don Bussey

  • Karen Wessel, left, with her sister Janice Potocki, both of Arlington Heights.

      Karen Wessel, left, with her sister Janice Potocki, both of Arlington Heights.
    COURTESY OF Don Bussey

  • An earlier photo of Karen Wessel with her children, Michael, and Elizabeth.

      An earlier photo of Karen Wessel with her children, Michael, and Elizabeth.
    COURTESY OF Don Bussey

 
 

A memorial service for Karen Wessel, the Arlington Heights mom who died after heroically saving a 9-year-old boy from drowning in a Wisconsin lake, will be held Saturday, Aug. 2.

The service will be held at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of the Wayside, 434 W. Park St. in Arlington Heights, neighbor Barb McCoy said.

Even as arrangements were being made Friday, an autopsy was being conducted by the Vilas County, Wisconsin coroner to determine Wessel's official cause of death, authorities said. No ruling was announced as of Friday afternoon.

Wessel is survived by her sister, Janice Potocki of Arlington Heights, her 9-year-old son, Michael, and 17-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

The immediate plan for the children is for them to live with their aunt, Potocki, whose house is next door to theirs in Arlington Heights' Pioneer Park neighborhood, McCoy said.

Another family friend, Don Bussey, has been working on setting up a fund for Wessel's children but could not be reached for comment on its progress Friday.

Wessel, Potocki and their friend, Karen Altamore, were vacationing on Star Lake in northern Wisconsin Tuesday afternoon, with three children who included Wessel's 9-year-old son and Altamore's 9-year-old godson.

According to police, the three boys began swimming across a narrow channel toward a sandbar when they were told to return to shore. Seeing that the kids were getting exhausted and in need of assistance, Altamore and Potocki swam out and brought two of the boys back to shore, as Wessel met them halfway.

By this time, Altamore was exhausted and Potocki getting tired, too, police said. Wessel then swam out to rescue the third boy, Altamore's godson, they said.

Police said Wessel reportedly used herself to push the boy up above the surface of the water to keep him from going under, but then did not resurface herself.

A pontoon boat went out to the pair in the water. The boat operator dove in and got the boy back to the pontoon, where he clung to a railing. The man then saw Wessel floating limply below the surface of the water.

He applied CPR to Wessel while still in the water, but he wasn't able to get her or the boy up onto the boat.

Another boat rushed in, operated by a local couple who were able to get Wessel aboard. Rescuers continued CPR as the boat sped to shore, where CPR was taken over by Deputy Glenn Huelskamp of the Vilas County Sheriff's Office.

An ambulance arrived to take Wessel to a nearby park, from where she was airlifted to Aspirus Hospital in Wausau, Wisconsin. She was pronounced dead there at 5:20 p.m.

With Wessel's official cause of death still undetermined, the investigation of the Vilas County Sheriff's office is continuing.

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