Fifteen-year-old Asher Paglaro was taking a break between waves while surfing in Tofino when he noticed his friend looked dazed.
Over the crashing surf, he could just make out his whisper: “Help.”
Asher didn’t know at the time that his friend was having a seizure, but his quick actions saved his life. The teen does not want his named used because he wants to keep his medical condition private, but he wanted to make sure Asher was recognized for his heroic actions.
“He saved my life,” he told the Times Colonist.
It was July 15 and the North Vancouver 15-year-olds were both on family holidays in Tofino. They met up on Cox Beach to surf while their parents were at a nearby campground.
The boys were about chest-deep in the water about 100 feet from shore when Asher noticed his friend looking up at the sky with a dazed expression.
“He was looking up just saying ‘help, help, help’ in this raspy, soft tone. It looked like he was desperate,” Asher recalled. “I thought his body had gone into full shock.”
The teen said he remembers a weird feeling coming over him and then blacking out. “I knew something was wrong, but I was completely disoriented,” he said. “I tried to follow [Asher’s] voice.”
Asher could feel the two were getting pulled into a rip current. “I remember yelling: ‘Get on my board, get on my board, I know how to get us out of this.’ But he wasn’t hearing me. He was just saying ‘help’ over and over.”
The water was getting higher and swirling around them.
“I thought: ‘I have to do something because he’s about to get pulled under,’ ” Asher said.
He grabbed his friend’s wet suit and pulled him, moving them out of the rip tide.
Asher recalls his friend saying: “Something is not right, something is not OK.”
“I assumed he had a concussion,” he said. “A seizure didn’t cross my mind at this point.”
Once they made it out of the strong current and into shallower water, Asher tried to guide his friend to shore.
His friend was stumbling and barely moving, so Asher positioned the surfboards on either side of him for support.
About 10 to 20 feet from shore, the teen collapsed, foaming at the mouth.
“I ditched the board entirely and I dragged him in the rest of the way,” he said.
An off-duty medical professional who saw that the teen was in medical distress ran over and placed him on his side.
Asher told someone to call 911, then ran about a kilometre to the campsite to get the teen’s dad. Exhausted and out of breath, Asher then ran back to the beach so he could make sure paramedics had all the information about what happened to his friend.
The teen remembers waking up on the beach in a daze, unclear of what had happened.
He was taken to Tofino General Hospital, then airlifted to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, where he had an MRI scan. The teen said doctors found a brain abnormality requiring further tests at B.C. Children’s Hospital. He had never had a seizure before, and is still waiting for more answers about what caused this one.
Looking back, Asher realizes how scary it was that they were caught in a rip tide while his friend was incapacitated — but at the time, adrenaline pushed him into action. “The way my brain works, I don’t think about panicking,” he said.
“I’ll freak out after, but during the time, if someone is in danger, my brain makes the decision in half a second. That’s just how I’ve always been.”
It is the second time Asher has rescued someone in the water. Three years ago, he and some friends were paddle-boarding when one teen threw a chunk of seaweed without realizing a rock was tangled inside. The rock hit one girl in the head and she fell into the water.
Asher pulled her up and put pressure on her bloody wound while he walked her into shore.
Tovah Paglaro, Asher’s mother, said she’s proud of her son — not only for saving the teen’s life, but for fighting exhaustion to alert his friend’s dad and then run back to the paramedics.
“He responded with his instincts. I’m glad he had the fortitude to push through,” she said. “I would expect no less of him than to do everything he could to save his friend and that’s what he did.”