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Buffalo State women's swimmer Sarah Harter recalls helping to save near-drowning victim


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It was the day after the Fourth of July, 2018. Lifeguards at Delta State Park off New York State Route 46 were looking forward to a quiet day on the beach after a hectic holiday. Few people were on the water that day and everything seemed normal, until catastrophe struck.

Sarah Harter, a sophomore speech pathology major and member of the Buffalo State Women's Swimming and Diving team, works as a lifeguard for the park in the summer months and remembers that day all too well.

"I was switching chairs with another guard. I was paddling in on our paddle board and I heard our emergency whistle blast… it was three whistle blasts," Harter said.

Harter paddled closer as she saw one of her coworkers rush to a man face down in waist-deep water, unconscious.

Wasting no time, Harter hurried to where they brought him to shore and began to assist with administering CPR. The man had no pulse and was not breathing.

"The first responder started on compressions and I started on oxygen, that was my job the whole time. I did oxygen until he had a pulse again and then I did rescue breathing for about 25 minutes," Harter said.

The nearest ambulance was 15 minutes away. Harter and her coworkers were forced to react, and fast. With little time to think and a life in their hands, the lifeguards had to trust one another.

"I was confident I knew what to do but it was also the confidence that I knew every single person there that day on my life guarding team and I was sure that they knew what they were doing. So, I felt confident that we could do this together," Harter said.

Even with the rigorous training and confidence in one another, Harter credits her sports background and team mentality for getting her through the rescue. Most of the lifeguards on duty that day were athletes at some level and those backgrounds contributed to them working as a team in a time of crisis.

The lifeguards did their job. After the ambulance had left with 56-year-old Michael Mastro, he had his own heartbeat and was breathing but was still unconscious. In fact, he didn't wake up until the following day in ICU. But they had done it, they had saved this man's life.

A few days later Harter and the Delta State Park lifeguards went to visit Mastro at Rome Memorial Hospital.

"His wife was there, and she told us how grateful they were. He was very grateful for everything and even came back to visit," Harter said.

Mastro suffered from some cardiac event and has since had a pacemaker installed. He even ventured back to visit Delta Lake after the event wielding a cane and taking pictures with the lifeguards for local media, though he has no plans of going back in the water anytime soon.

The event had a tremendous impact on Harter and made her appreciate life and the people around her even more.

"I reached out to my Buff State team after the event in our Snapchat group chat and told them what happened and told them how thankful I was that they were in my life and that we're a team," Harter said.

She doesn't want to look back on this as a traumatic experience but rather a chance to see upfront how precious life is.

It can happen in the blink of an eye. What seemed like a quiet summer day on Delta Lake quickly took a dramatic turn. Fight or flight, what are you going to do in that moment? Sarah Harter and her colleagues chose to act.

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