A woman paddle boarder remained in stable condition in a hospital critical care unit this week after being pulled unconscious from the ocean onto a board by her companion, who performed life-saving first aid while he screamed for help and furiously paddled for Woods Cove in Laguna Beach.
“It was so lucky I was with her,” said longtime friend Jason Mueller, who recounted the Sunday, May 21, rescue of Pamela Simpson, another local resident, which was partly hampered by low visibility from an early morning marine layer. Only later, Mueller said he learned that his friend has a medical condition that caused her to loose consciousness.
A gofundme page says Simpson suffered a seizure and brain scans discovered a large tumor.
“It’s such a blessing I was there; she’s alive and she’s got a chance,” said Mueller in a phone interview as the finish carpenter headed for a job site in Las Vegas on Monday.
Simpson, 41, who has a daughter Coral, has worked as a bartender and server at the Surf and Sand restaurant Splashes for at least 10 years, said another friend, George West, who lives near Woods Cove.
The native of Denver who excelled in gymnastics and powder skiing, Simpson is known locally as Laguna’s “first lady of skimming,” founding Skim Chicks, and a driving force behind the recent growth in women’s pro skim boarding. In 2005, she took third in the World Championships of Skim Boarding.
Mueller said the two friends encountered dolphins while paddle boarding to Victoria Beach and that Simpson followed behind him as they made their way back to Woods Cove. He was surprised when she didn’t also slide onto the sand when he did, but figured she had jumped in the water to cool off. He couldn’t see her because of the fog. “It wasn’t a full whiteout, but it came into play,” said Mueller, who after a few minutes headed back into the water to look for Simpson. He didn’t go much more than 50 yards from shore before he saw her board and his friend’s lifeless body face down in the water nearby.
Mueller said Simpson wasn’t breathing as he pulled her onto his board and for a full minute blew air between her blue lips. Then he started screaming “call 911” as he alternated between CPR and paddling as fast as he could.
“Seeing what she looked like, every second counted,” said Mueller, who remembers four frantic rounds alternating between breathing, compressions, yelling and paddling before he reached dry sand. “By then, the paramedics were running down the stairs. They got a pulse.”
“It was so crazy and scary,” said witness Marcela Cortes, a 10-year resident who frequents Woods Cove. Her husband, Jeff Murray, who grabbed his fins, and another woman ran into the water to assist Mueller once the disembodied voice emerged from the fog. “He looked so scared. He was so brave,” said Cortes, who described Mueller’s actions as nearly miraculous given the poor visibility. “How did he find her?” she asked.
Lifeguards could hear a man yelling for help from the water, but couldn’t see its source, the police log noted. “By all accounts, she’s alive because of him,” marine safety Capt. Tom Trager said.
Cortes said paramedics believed Simpson might have been experiencing seizures. “Her breathing was like snoring,” said Cortes.
“That was the craziest experience of my life,” said Mueller, who described growing up surfing at Pearl and Agate beaches and graduating from Laguna Beach High School in 1996.
He and Simpson, he said, met in their 20s, dated, traveled together and maintained a 20-year friendship. “We watched each other grow up,” he said.
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