CHARLESTOWN — For Joanne Casey, no thank you will ever be big enough for the local lifeguards that saved her life.
The 49-year-old mother of two, who lives in East Longmeadow, Mass., with her husband, Steve Casey, doesn’t remember much from her experience on Aug. 14 when she suffered cardiac arrest while at Charlestown Town Beach. She does recall waking in the hospital later, however, and learning from medical professionals that if she were not revived using an automated external defibrillator, or AED, she would likely have died that day.
“One of the first things I remember when I came to was my lying in a hospital bed with my sister and family in front of me,” Casey said in a phone interview Thursday. “The doctor said, ‘If not for use of the AED, you wouldn’t be alive.’”
“If it weren’t for those lifeguards, who went through the training and were there in position to use it, I don’t survive,” she said.
Casey, who works as a second-grade teacher at the Meadowbrook School in East Longmeadow, was visiting the Charlestown home of a coworker on Aug. 14 when the two decided to make a beach trip, she said.
They had arrived and she was preparing to set up for the day when the cardiac arrest occurred.
“I wasn’t feeling well and thought it must have been something I ate,” said Casey. “I told my friend I just needed to sit a moment. That’s the last thing I can remember.”
According to Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Chief Andrew Kettle and Director of Parks and Recreation Vicky Hilton, Casey went unconscious and lifeguards were notified by the friend. Officials said head lifeguard Katherine Vitello and lifeguard Ellie Dunkle sprang into action, working in tandem to provide CPR. Meanwhile, officials said lifeguards Kendra Hamilton and Kindra Scheer prepared the AED and used the defibrillator when CPR efforts were not working.
The team was then able to resuscitate Casey before first responders even arrived, Kettle said. She was then taken to Kent County Hospital for further treatment. Kettle said other beach staff members, Charlestown police, the Charlestown Ambulance Corps and the Charlestown Fire Department also assisted in the rescue.
Casey is continuing to recover at home and expects to return to class in approximately two weeks, but that didn’t stop her from sending her sister, Ginger Conti, back to the beach this week to thank the lifeguards before the season drew to a close.
“It was such a small gesture. It’s the least I can do,” she said.
Arriving with cards, flowers and cookies from Casey’s favorite bakery, La Fiorentina Pastry Shop in East Longmeadow, Mass., Conti surprised the lifeguards this week with an in-person thank you. The group also Facetimed with Casey so that they could see, in person, that she was OK.
Conti was joined in her visit by her daughter, Grace Conti, and Casey’s son, Colin Casey.
“We are so grateful, our whole family really, that those kids were there,” Conti said. “They kept their composure and knew exactly what to do. We believe she was there for a reason — had this happened anywhere else, there’s no way of knowing whether she’d be with us still today.”
Hilton said this week that many times, lifeguards never have the chance to learn whether the victim lives or dies. For her staff and those involved in the rescue, she said, it provided “a happy closure” before the summer beach season rolls to a close.
Casey says she reflects every day on the “amazing rescue efforts” provided by the young lifeguards and will never forget what they did for her. She plans on meeting them in person at the Charlestown Town Council meeting on Sept. 10, when the lifeguards are expected to receive a proclamation from the council.
“What they did for me, it means everything,” Casey said. “It’s still surreal. I’ll get to return to class in a few weeks and it’s because of them.”