Villa Park lifeguard saves boy on first day

  • Katie Karcz, 15, of Villa Park saved a 12-year-old boy on her first day of lifeguard duty at Jefferson Pool in Villa Park.

      Katie Karcz, 15, of Villa Park saved a 12-year-old boy on her first day of lifeguard duty at Jefferson Pool in Villa Park. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

By Cassie Buchman
Updated 7/7/2016 6:50 PM

When lifeguard Katie Karcz saw a boy jump off a diving board and sink to the bottom of Jefferson Pool, she knew what she had to do.

The boy was flapping his arms, trying desperately to come up to the surface. When Karcz saw that he stopped moving and was unable to come up on his own, she blew her whistle three times and jumped in the pool. As soon as she did, the other lifeguards blew one long whistle to get everyone else out and rushed over.


Karcz grabbed the boy's waist, pulled him up to her rescue float and brought him to the side of the pool, where he was able to climb up the ladder himself.

Though she admits she was scared when she saw the boy go under, it "clicked" to her what she needed to do.

"I looked at him and went down. I couldn't really think about it because if I did I wouldn't be able to actually do it," the 15-year-old Villa Park resident says.

It was a move any experienced lifeguard would make -- except, in this case, it was Karcz's first day working at the pool.

Later, Karcz would learn the submerged save she used to save the boy's life was a rare one -- and one of what she calls the worst saves to do at that.

"Now, if anything else happens, it's not going to be easy, but I'm not going to be as scared," Karcz says.

At Jefferson Pool, the last time the rescue Karcz used on the boy had been used was in the summer of 1995 or 1996, aquatic manager Sue Earl says.

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"The thing about Katie is she recognized right away that this person was not coming up," she said. "You can't hold your breath that long underwater. She reacted very quickly and was able to get him up quickly so he didn't need any type of rescue breathing."

This attentiveness and responsibility is what Earl looks for when she is finding new lifeguards.

"It definitely takes a special kind of person to want to do this job," Earl said.

After the boy was rescued, paramedics came to check on him. His mother ended up taking him home, as he did not need rescue breathing or additional medical help. Earl followed up with the mom the next day, who said the boy was OK.

One of the paramedics who came to the pool that day sent an email to the village manager telling him what Karcz did and she was then recognized at a Villa Park board meeting.


Village President Deborah Bullwinkel said it was both an honor and a privilege to honor Karcz at the board meeting.

Although Bullwinkel says she never wants people to be in a drowning situation, she finds it comforting to know how intense the lifeguard training is.

"Our town (should) feel very safe to have Katie. She's an amazing young woman who showed incredible poise and professionalism," Bullwinkel said. "She's my hero."

For Karcz, however, it still has not sunk in that she saved the boy's life, though people will come up to her to say they heard about what she did and the boy has since thanked her.

"I work every day, so I kind of have to push it to the back of my mind so if anything else happens I won't be scared to do anything," Karcz said.

Since her first rescue, Karcz has had one "assist," when a little girl went down in the pool and started crying out. Karcz gave the girl her rescue tube to help her walk out of the pool.

To learn to be a lifeguard, Karcz had to go through the 30-hour American Red Cross training program and additional training Memorial Day weekend.

Earl said that in training, lifeguards practice deep-water and shallow-water rescues, as well as what to do with active and passive victims and in the case of spinal injuries.

"It was kind of fresh in her mind, I think," Earl said.

It is this training, Earl says, that makes every lifeguard prepared, meaning any of them could have done what Karcz did.

"They practice all summer long," she said.

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