As assistant frosh/soph swim coach and math teacher Amanda Morris watched over a routine swim practice on the Friday before spring break, she saw someone’s body floating face down. It was freestyle swimmer, freshman Rachel Green –– unconscious.
It did not take long for Morris to realize that something was terribly wrong. Immediately,
she dived into the pool fully clothed and pulled Green out of the water.
“[I] was not sure if she was swimming across,” Morris said of the March 22 incident at the Sunny Hills High School Aquatics Center. “But once I realized that she was not, I jumped in, and the swimmers helped take her out of the pool.”
Besides Morris, the school’s American Sign Language translator, Kathy Phoenix, and assistant swim coach Sergio Dorrego also helped in Green’s rescue. Each was recognized and given a Certificate of Appreciation for being “standout employees and heroes” at the Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] trustees meeting April 2 for saving Green.
Morris performed CPR, which she said she has been certified in for over 12 years. After an approximate minute of CPR, she said she successfully revived Green.
“I started lifeguarding, teaching swim lessons and coaching a summer recreational swim team in Diamond Bar at age 17,” Morris said. “It was just a couple months ago since I certified it again.”
Dorrego contacted 911, and Phoenix rode alongside Green in the ambulance to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Green said she has had similar incidents of passing out when she was younger. However, this was the first instance when she fainted in a pool. Additionally, recent hospital-visit results showed that Green’s body was stable and healthy, so the doctors could not directly identify a cause for what happened to her in the pool.
“We don’t exactly know the reason why I passed out, but I have also [fainted when] I was a baby up to a toddler,” she said. “According to the echocardiogram, everything about my heart seems to be fine, but if my genetic test comes out showing that I’m healthy, something else may be the problem.”
Before the incident, Green remembers playing Sharks and Minnows after school with around 30 people during swim practice at 2:50 p.m. that day.
The game consists of a person playing the “shark,” preventing other players who are the “minnows” from reaching the opposite side of the pool.
Morris said this is not a common practice routine. However, because spring break was the following day, she wanted to incorporate more relaxing drills during practice.
“I was swimming under water, and I just happened to be the ‘shark,’ and I just passed out,” Green said. “After I woke up, I was really confused about what happened because I didn’t know I passed out.”
She is thankful that a certified lifeguard was at the vicinity when she was unconscious in the pool.
“I knew that [Morris] was CPR-certified, and I am just really grateful that she saved me,” Green said. “If she didn’t know how to do CPR, then the incident could have become much worse.”
Teammates and staff members were also thankful that the situation was resolved in approximately one minute.
“I felt relieved, and it was really emotional for everyone, especially when you know the person,” Morris said. “After it happened, there were a thousand things going through [my] head like making sure if she’s OK.”
As Green was recovering, Phoenix worked diligently to make sure Green maintained responsive.
“I was focused on counting the compressions and watching Rachel for responses,” she said, who also stayed at the hospital communicating with doctors and Green’s parents. “As she started to respond, my goal was to stay in her line of vision so that she could have access of communication.”
Green said her parents, as well as a few school staff members, comforted her during the stay at the hospital.
“My mom came to the hospital crying, and my dad came by after work,” she said. “From the second [my dad] came in, he started making jokes to try to make me laugh.”
Immediately after Dorrego called 911, principal Allen Whitten said he contacted the FJUHSD executive director Karl Zener, who later relayed the message to superintendent Scott Scambray about the situation.
Scambray and the school board later decided to recognize Morris, Phoenix and Dorrego for their efforts.
“I was just really happy and humbled to receive the [certificate],” Morris said.
Phoenix experienced similar sentiments.
“I was simply humbled,” she said. “I felt like anyone who was in my situation would have done the same thing,” she said.
Dorrego, who also cleared space in the area for the paramedics’ arrival, was joyful and thankful to accept the award along with Morris and Phoenix.
“When being recognized for my efforts, I was proud and very happy that Ms. Morris, [Mrs. Phoenix] and I were able to handle the situation,” he said.
Whitten said the pool rules were not violated during the incident. Regulations and standards at the Aquatics Center are strict to ensure students’ lives are not put at risk during practices, games and other activities.
“There has to be a certified lifeguard and supervision of the students, and the rules put in place must be followed,” he said. “We don’t allow any activity for any student without supervision, and we don’t let the kids in the pool unless the coaches are there.”
The incident did not stop Green’s excitement from going back into the pool and start practicing again.
“I had to miss practice through spring break and a couple of normal school days,” said Green, who was able to return to swimming in the pool after spring break last month. “I was longing to swim again [because] I really missed in the time they kept me off swimming.”
The incident reminded the freshman to cherish the most important aspects of her life.
“I realized that I nearly died and that there were some things that I needed to change in my life such as the importance of my family and friends,” Green said. “It was one of those immediate realizations, which made me feel like I needed to work on my dedication to my religion.”
Since the incident, she said she has improved relationships with her family and has continued to improve her devotion to her Mormon faith.
“Since I have two brothers, we have been trying to be more patient with one another, which has helped me get closer with my family,” Green said. “I have been improving my scripture studies and trying to focus more on my religion, not only on Sundays, but also every day of my life.”