Bluffton hero wins top Red Cross award after saving girl from pool

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BLUFFTON

Bluffton hero wins top Red Cross award after saving girl from pool

By TOM BARTON
tbarton@islandpacket.com
Published Tuesday, January 8, 2013   |  706 Words  |  

Bluffton resident Frank Szczepanik fidgets and smiles in the front of the camera.

He says he is not one for accolades or attention, and he tenses slightly when someone calls him a hero.

The 48-year-old retired longshoreman from New Jersey says what he did was nothing remarkable.

The American Red Cross begs to differ.

Szczepanik was recognized Tuesday at Bluffton's Town Council meeting for his heroism -- using cardio pulmonary resuscitation to save an 18-month-old who had fallen into a pool at Mill Creek Plantation -- and awarded a certificate of merit signed by President Barack Obama, honorary chairman of the Red Cross.

The certificate is the highest award given by the Red Cross for sustaining or saving a life -- only 90 are presented each year from among several hundred submissions nationwide.

Szczepanik is the second Bluffton resident this year to receive the award. Derek Lemire of Bluffton, who was also trained by the Red Cross, was presented the awarded in February for using CPR and administering an automated external defibrillator to revive a man who collapsed on a tennis court after suffering cardiac arrest.

"There's plenty of other people that do (life-saving) things every day that they don't get recognized for," Szczepanik said. "I was just in the right place at the right time."

That place and time was the Mill Creek swimming pool July 27. Szczepanik was on his way home and was walking at the edge of the pool when he spotted what looked like a doll floating face-down in the water.

He thought, as a courtesy, he'd pull the doll out. Only after he had his hands around her did he realize it was a small girl.

"She was already blue and not breathing so I administered CPR," Szczepanik said. "It was a long minute and a half -- the longest minute and a half of my life."

He credits his knowledge of CPR to his Red Cross training while in the National Guard, calling it a "blessing."

"I never thought I'd use it, especially on a little girl," he said. "I hope it's the last (time). But, it goes to show you the value of the Red Cross and learning CPR. It takes only a couple of hours to get certified. If you never use it? OK. But you never know if or when the time may come where you'll need to."

The girl, Lilac Slade, was taken to Hilton Head Hospital as a precaution and has made a full recovery, according to Otto Ferrene, spokesman for the American Red Cross in Bluffton.

More than 300,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur every year in the U.S., according to the Red Cross. Of those, about 8 percent survive because someone administered CPR or an AED immediately. And four out of every five cardiac arrests happen at home, which is why the Red Cross encourages one person per household or business to be certified in CPR, Ferrene said.

As for Szczepanik, Ferrene says: "There aren't many people nowadays who volunteer to help people in trouble. They'd much rather not get involved. He's a man who did get involved. He's an old National Guardsman, whose military training ... and desire to have service above self was what caused him to do what he did."

Szczepanik said he has not talked to the girl's family, who did not attend Tuesday's presentation, but did find a plate of cookies and a handwritten "Thank You" with hearts on his door days later.

"Who knows? Maybe she grows up to be somebody great now," Szczepanik said.

Related content

  1. Bluffton man rescues child from Mill Creek pool: July 30, 2012
  2. Red Cross-trained Bluffton resident recognized for saving life: Feb. 20, 2012