South Carolina

‘I would have just died’: SC lifeguards rescue heart attack-stricken swimmer

For four years, Scott Shull has started each workday with a swim in the indoor pool at Anne Springs Close Greenway – a daily mile to keep his heart healthy and “do something good” for himself.

Little did he know that those morning swims would save his life on May 3, when he had a heart attack in the pool, prompting two young lifeguards to spring into action.

Shull, 49, said he felt fine that morning before his daily swim and there was no indication of a problem.

“Nothing,” he said. “Absolutely nothing.”

Shull said he kept a good pace with another swimmer in the pool at the time and even lapped him. He stopped to talk with a third swimmer in the pool who had recently competed in a contest.

“That’s all I remember was talking to him,” Shull said. “He said at that point that it looked like I’d leaned back and was relaxing. And then I started shaking, like I was having a seizure. I was turning purple and blue.”

Lifeguard Chynna Norman said she knew something was wrong when she saw Shull fall back toward the edge of the pool.

“When I ran over, he kind of stood back up a little bit and was talking,” Norman said. “And then he fell back again and we pulled him out.”

Norman said she called 911, and lifeguard Jessica Knapton got the automated external defibrillator that is kept at the pool and which lifeguards are trained to use.

“We put the pads on him and it analyzed his heart rate and advised us to administer some shocks,” Norman said. “After that, his vitals were back to normal. We just waited and continued to monitor the situation until EMS and the fire department came.”

After passing out mid-conversation in the pool, Shull said, the next thing he remembers is being loaded into the ambulance outside the recreational facility.

“Everything that happened in between there was very foggy,” he said.

At the hospital, Shull underwent surgery to place a stent in his left anterior descending artery, which doctors told him was 99 percent clogged. After a 24-hour stay, he was back home.

“If I’d been at home in bed, driving to work or whatever, I would have just died,” he said. “I just continue to try and make sure I’m doing the right things. I look at everything and the way it was laid out and just thank God I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Norman and Knapton accepted flowers as a thank-you from the man they saved, but they say it was all in a day’s work.

“We were just trying to make sure we were getting help for him as soon as possible, making sure 911 was on the way and we got his heart shocked back into rhythm,” Knapton said. “I’m just glad to know that he’s well and that he’s doing good.”

Harry Truesdale, aquatics director at Anne Springs Close Greenway, said his lifeguards responded exactly as they were trained to. They train weekly on different types of rescues, CPR, first aid and using the defibrillator.

“We try to prepare them for the accident to happen because we don’t know when it’s coming or where it’s coming,” he said. “I was very proud of them – very proud of them. Doing in-service training really helps.”

Just days after his brush with death, Shull sang at both Sunday services for Fort Mill Church of God and decided to use his experience as a teaching moment in his Sunday school class.

“I asked them the question, ‘What would you do differently if you knew you were gonna die on Tuesday?’” he said. “I tried to ask them and make them think about things a little bit. It’s interesting, the answers you get.”

Teddy Kulmala: 803-329-4082, @teddy_kulmala