'You are truly heroes' - woman thanks lifeguards after seizure leaves her unconscious and drifting out to sea
PUBLISHED: 17:31 12 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:59 17 June 2019
A woman has hailed the heroic lifeguards who pulled her lifeless body to safety after a seizure left her floating face down 50m offshore.
Sarah Barnwell was helpless as the current began to drag her out to sea off Lowestoft's South Beach at around 3pm on Saturday.
The 22-year-old had started getting into difficulty when swimming back to shore and began to panic.
She said: "I've had non-epileptic seizures since I was four.
"I panicked because I couldn't get in to the beach and when my heart races too fast I have seizures.
"I knew I was in trouble and I couldn't get out."
Knowing a blackout was fast approaching she used the last of her strength to signal to the shore she needed help - as her best friend Bronwen Owen simultaneously raised the alarm.
The distress signal was spotted by senior lifeguard Nick Ayers as he patrolled the shoreline.
The 27-year-old grabbed his rescue board and rushed into the sea as the current began to drag Miss Barnwell closer to Claremont Pier.
He said: "When I got out there she went unconscious, she was face down and I had to pick her up and put her on the board.
"I thought the worst - that she was gone."
As Mr Ayers towed the unconscious woman back to the beach the rest of the coastguard team sprang into action.
Eighteen year-old Daniel Bedwell grabbed the first responder bag and raced to meet Mr Ayers as he returned to shore while Natasha Mills, also 18, called for an ambulance before assisting her colleagues.
The ambulance arrived within 10 minutes and transported Miss Barnwell to James Paget Hospital University in Gorleston.
She said: "All I remember is waking up in hospital and my mum told me I stopped breathing in the ambulance."
While Miss Barnwell was released later the same day the experience has left a lasting impact.
She said: "I will never go back into the water. I don't want to put my life at risk or anybody else."
On Sunday she revisited the beach to thank the heroes who had saved her life and said: "Thank you so much for your amazing hard work. You saved my life - you are truly heroes."
Advice from the lifesavers
What senior lifeguard Nick Ayers remembers most about the rescue is how quickly it unfolded.
He said: "We had seen her earlier in the day and she was a confident swimmer. As a lifeguard you can tell who is a weak swimmer and who is a strong swimmer and who isn't really a swimmer at all.
"She went from being a strong swimmer to an unconscious swimmer with no warning."
He advised members of the public to always swim between the red and yellow flags, just as Miss Barnwell had, to provide lifeguards the best chance to help if required.
His colleague Natasha Mills also offered some advice and said: "If you know you have a pre-existing condition inform the lifeguards."
This was the first major incident for the first year lifeguard.
She added: "You are always relieved when they are taken away in a good condition and you were able to help.
"Knowing you have done all you can is a good feeling."