I read this story today on “Praying Medic” Telegram channel. Extraordinary.
On Tuesday 11 April 2023 I experienced a near-drowning, and it was only through the intercession of God that myself and my young son survived and are alive today. My family (wife and two sons) were on a short family holiday on the South Coast of New South Wales. We were on the last day of our holiday and I took our sons to the beach to play and go for a swim in the surf.
Surf conditions on the day were not good, and at nearby Shellharbour, there was a swell of 10 feet (3.1 metres) on the day. We played safely in the shallow surf about 5 metres or less from the shore for 1-2 hours. I could see sand being churned heavily about 10 metres to the right of us and assumed this was a strong rip which was being generated by the heavy swell and strong currents.
We steered clear of this area. My eldest son asked if we could go deeper into the water, and against my better judgement, I agreed. We waded out a few more metres, and unbeknownst to me, the rip was wider and stronger than expected, and we were both caught in the rip. We were both ocean-facing and were unaware that we were in the rip for about 30-60 seconds, until we could not touch the bottom (the rip had pulled out all the sand from the sandbar).
I turned around and saw we were about 30 metres from shore. I quickly realised the gravity of the situation and knew we were in the rip (my family and I have watched probably too many episodes of Bondi Rescue over the years). I raised my hand to signal for help and yelled to my youngest son and one other person on the beach for help. My hand was in the air for maybe 5-10 seconds, and I yelled at my son to “swim across!” to try and escape the rip.
As my hand was in the air, a local man called Dean (who was a former lifesaver) was driving by together with his wife, who was a former nurse. They were driving on a road that overlooks the beach, when they saw myself and my son in the rip. He recognised my hand in the air as a sign of distress, and they quickly pulled over and he ran down to the beach. My son and I are good swimmers, but the strength of the rip going back out to the ocean combined with the relentless large waves on top resulted in us being constantly rolled under – like being in a washing machine.
After what seemed like 5-10 minutes of struggling in the rip, I was taking in significant amounts of water and could not surface for air. I remembered thinking “I didn’t think I would go out this way.” I knew I had about 1-2 minutes of life left, and the faces of my family – my wife and my two sons – flashed before me underneath the waves. I felt pangs of regret that I would not be there to see them grow up. I have read stories about fathers who die and leave their wife and children behind. I did not want to be one of those fathers.
Though I was not afraid of dying. As a deeply spiritual person, I look forward to returning home to God when He calls me, and I have read of many beautifully divine near-death experiences over the decades. But I felt it was not my time. I had a choice between giving up and leaving this life or fighting and staying here. For my family, I made the choice to stay. I came to the surface and prayed to God for help.
I remember stretching my left arm out in a short break between the waves and looking up at the clouds. My prayer for help was not strong; it was desperate and failing. Shortly after, another set of waves pummelled and rolled me underneath the waves, and I came up one last time.
At that moment, Dean appeared in the waves next to me. I didn’t know who he was or where he came from, but I could tell he was a strong swimmer and I felt my prayer was answered. He told my son and I to lie on our backs (to help conserve energy and to also try and help float closer to shore with the help of the breaking waves).
Dean had to make the difficult choice of saving my son or I, as the rip and the surf were too strong and he was unable to save both of us at the same time. He had to make a choice about who had the best chance of survival, and he made the right choice and went to save my son.
One more set of waves rolled over me, and I remember being tossed around in the ocean like a rag doll. I could not reach the surface for air, and at this moment I lost consciousness and blacked out under the waves. Eyewitnesses told me that Dean grabbed my son as he laid on his back in the surf and swam with him across the rip, and then fought their way back to near shore, to a point where my son could stand on the sand and rocks and get to the beach himself.
Dean turned back to the ocean and could see I was still in the waves, but he realised that if he attempted to swim out and rescue me, that he would likely not survive himself as he was heavily fatigued and had taken in seawater himself in the first rescue.
Over the next 5 to 10 minutes as I was unconscious in the waves, I was somehow pulled sideways out of the rip (which should have taken me further out to sea, which is where rip currents normally flow) and carried across another stretch of water where I was positioned closer to some nearby rocks which extended from the beach out into the water. From the shore, Dean realised he had a chance to get closer and ran out onto the rocks.
Another set of waves broke – which could have taken me further out, or closer to the rocks. By the grace of God, they carried me directly towards Dean, and at that moment the waves stopped and the sea pulled back to reveal a rock ledge that Dean was able to step down on and reach out to grab me. He pulled me out of the surf and dragged me back across the rocks to safety.
By this time some others had gathered on the beach, and two other men ran out onto the rocks to assist Dean in helping to carry me back across the rocks to the beach. I was brought to the shore, and as I hit the sand I regained consciousness. I struggled to breathe and I had taken in a lot of water, but I was alive. My rescuer(s) carried me further up the beach to a local lifesaver, who had come across from a neighbouring beach with an oxygen tank. My oxygen levels were critically low and Dean’s wife (a former nurse) assisted with administering oxygen.
I began to recover and vomited heavily a number of times to expel the seawater from my stomach. By this time paramedics had arrived (three ambulances) along with police (three cars) as well as a helicopter. Paramedics assisted in stabilising me, and I was loaded into an ambulance for transfer to the local base hospital. I was taken to the emergency department where I was put on a high flow oxygen ventilator and given other treatment to help bring my oxygen levels back to normal. I had swallowed a lot of seawater and my left lung had partially collapsed and had taken in water. I also suffered kidney failure and the doctors said later that the initial blood test analysis resembled someone who was clinically dead and resuscitated. After three days in hospital recovering, I was discharged, and I am now home and fully recovered.
I am grateful. God’s Hand was evident in many ways on that day. From Dean (a former lifesaver) passing at the exact time I had my hand in the air for help and then turning up in the waves less than a minute after praying for help, to him rescuing my son and then having the ocean carry me directly to him for a second rescue, God saved our lives that day. The waves should have smashed me against the rocks, but the waves were stilled. The sea made way for me to be pulled out of the ocean and rescued. I was dragged across rocks away from the surf and my back should have been full of cuts and bruises, but my back was unmarked.
Hospital doctors said my blood test results resembled someone who was clinically dead and then resuscitated (though no resuscitation was performed). The emergency department doctors told my wife I would likely be on oxygen for at least a couple of weeks (if not months). By God’s grace (and the many prayers that were offered for me) I was on oxygen for only two days. My lungs were healed quickly and my kidneys have regained full working function.
The message in all of this is that we need to trust and surrender to God, all of the time – and not just call to Him when we are in trouble. Start your day with prayer and surrender. Bend your knee before Him first thing in the day and invite Him into your life. Ask Him to be part of your day and guide and protect you in everything you do.
The currents of life will sometimes carry you in unexpected directions, but He can lift you out of danger and carry you to safety. The sea obeyed His command without question that day, and when you give God power to act in your life, miracles can happen. PRAISE GOD.