The stranger I saved was my son!

A stroll along the beach turned into a dramatic rescue - and reunion - for Phil.

Phil Baker, 62, Bundaberg, Qld

The bay was bathed in sunshine. Walking along the beach with my wife Lyn, 66, we breathed in the fresh salty air. Having spent two wonderful weeks caravanning along the east coast, we’d just arrived in Byron Bay for a special reason. A few months earlier, my son, Benjamin, 21, had got in touch.

He’d moved to England with his mum when he was three and it had been 13 long years since I’d last seen him. So imagine my delight when Benj emailed me out of the blue. I want to come to Australia to visit, he told me.

I was thrilled! Benj flew into Sydney in February and now he was bringing a friend, Kathryne, 19, to meet us in Byron Bay. Lyn and I arrived early so decided to go for a walk along the beach.

It had been 13 long years since I’d last seen him

‘Left or right?’ I asked as we stepped onto the soft sand. Right, we decided, and as we strolled we chatted about Benj before the conversation turned to sea kayaking. ‘There’s some in the distance,’ I exclaimed, and pointed at a group of kayakers around 150m off the shore.

But peering a little closer, I realised one kayak looked like it was in trouble. Two people were desperately paddling on it, and it seemed like someone was slumped in the middle.

‘Something’s not right,’ I told Lyn. ‘I’m going in to help!’

With that, I took off my T-shirt and threw my keys onto the sand. Diving into the water, I saw there were two instructors on board and a man lying across the middle. He was shaking violently.

Benji when he was a kid.
Benj when he was a young boy.

‘I’ll help take him in,’ I offered. Linking arms with one of the instructors, I helped carry the young man out of the water. He was drifting in and out of consciousness and as I looked at his face, something occurred to me. Those brown eyes were very familiar. ‘What’s his name?’ I asked the instructor.

‘Benj,’ he replied, and in an instant I knew. That stranger was my son!

What had happened to him? Benj’s hands and feet were blue. It looked like he’d had some kind of seizure. ‘It’s me, your dad,’ I said, checking his breathing and pulse. ‘You’re going to be okay.’

Those brown eyes were very familiar.

Then Kathryne came running up the beach. She explained that Benj had been snorkelling when he swam over to say he felt he was about to have an epileptic fit. He’d suffered from them for years. Thank goodness she’d been there.

Before long, a crowd had gathered at the beach, bringing towels and clothes to cover my boy. The instructor, Chris, called for an ambulance. And when the paramedics arrived, they quickly covered Benj in a foil sheet to keep him warm before loading him on to a stretcher – which I helped carry up the beach.

Fortunately, after a brief stay in hospital, Benj was well enough to be discharged and later we all met up for dinner. ‘I can’t believe what happened today,’ he told me, as we relived all the drama. It certainly was an ice-breaker.

Kathryne, me, Lyn, and Benj

After that, we chatted about all sorts of things and I invited Benj and Kathryne to come and stay with us in Bundaberg. I was thrilled when they did – for nearly four weeks – and we had a lovely time going on fishing trips and catching up at home.

One afternoon, Benj turned to me. ‘I just want to say thank you,’ he said. ‘You saved my life that day at the beach!’

‘It was a team effort,’ I said.

I still can’t believe what a coincidence it was. I’m just glad I was on hand to help my son.

Ben Baker, 21, says…
I was anxious about seeing my dad again, but I never expected to be reunited in the way we were. Everyone gets goosebumps when I tell them the story! I had hypothermia and was coming out of a fit, but I recognised him as I was being carried out of the water. It’s great to have my dad in my life again.

Published in that’s life! issue 30, 2014.

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