When 17-year-old Noah Erwin heard someone call for a lifeguard during his shift at Paso Robles’ Municipal Pool last Thursday, he sprang into action.
“That was my first big emergency and hopefully my last,” the Paso Robles High School senior said. “I don’t want anything to happen to my girls.”
Noah was talking about 78-year-old Donna Przybyla of Paso Robles and her fellow swimmers. He was watching over the aqua aerobics class taught by instructor Vicki Blackburn at the city’s indoor therapy pool at 28th and Oak streets.
This particular class has fewer than a dozen participants, mostly women. Many say the group is like a second family.
When Przybyla suddenly became limp in the water, those around her said it was clear something was wrong.
“I can (spot) convulsions; the tightening of hands and jaw and neck,” Noah recalled from his lifeguard training. Przybyla was having a seizure.
The last thing Przybyla remembers was doing the “bunny hop” exercise and waking up in the hospital, she said Monday.
What she can’t remember is a story of quick thinking and solidarity: The class instructor called for Noah, a fellow classmate moved Przybyla to her back so she wasn’t face down in the pool and then the teen quickly pulled her from the water. He laid her on a side and checked her vital signs.
“She was really blue, so I asked for towels because it was cold,” Noah said. “I kept calm and remembered my training.”
Others called for paramedics and cleared a path by pushing pool chairs aside when they arrived to take her to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.
“It was a big team effort. I don’t want to take sole responsibility for everything that went on. Everyone had their part,” Noah said.
The teen’s father said his son was just doing his job.
“He’s not big-headed about it. He’s just glad he was there,” Greg Erwin said. “I felt proud.”
On Monday, Przybyla said she is recovering and filled with gratitude for everyone involved.
“I thank Noah for his quickness, she said. “And Vicki, too. They were on the ball.”
Blackburn said Noah did everything right as she coached him through his “first save.”
“It’s a pretty traumatic thing,” Blackburn said. “He was very calm, very professional. He’s a wonderful kid.”
Przybyla, who has been drawn to the water for most of her life, said she couldn’t wait until her doctor allows her to return to the pool in the coming weeks.
“I already miss it,” she said, being away a mere five days.
Her seizure was linked to a brain tumor that was removed about three years ago, she said. It was the first time she’d experienced a seizure, but she has since learned that it’s more likely to happen when she’s tired or too warm.
But that won’t keep her from the water.
“You get so used to going,” she said of her attraction to the pool. “I used to go day and night, and now that I’m getting older, I go three nights a week.”
Noah said the pool has also been a place he looks forward to visiting.
“I like the ladies — they’re cool,” he said. “It’s like a new set of friends.”