🏖 There are more dangers and risks in the water at the beach than you realize

🏖 Two trauma surgeons discuss what needs to happen after an incident in the water

🏖 A Brick Township man details how he overcame traumatic surfing injury


To try and avoid any further injury or tragedy in the Jersey Shore beach season upon us, it is absolutely imperative you follow all the rules and listen to the lifeguards.

Rip currents are a big challenge and concern at the Jersey Shore every summer, so it's vital that you follow all the beach rules and lifeguards' instructions.

Dr. Eric Costanzo, Critical Care Specialist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center with Hackensack Meridian Health -- and a lifeguard -- says already this beach season there have been extremely dangerous rip currents so far this season and they can generally be very unpredictable.

"I would urge everybody to swim near a lifeguard, don't swim after hours and really heed caution at the beach because it only takes a second to get into big trouble," Costanzo said.

(Photo courtesy of the NJ Sea Grant Consortium)
(Photo courtesy of the NJ Sea Grant Consortium)
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The ocean can be deceptive as you walk along the beach and towards the water.

"It's summer, everyone wants to relax and have a good time and refresh in the ocean, but the ocean is particularly dangerous even when it doesn't look rough," Costanzo said. "There are currents and rip tides that are really only visible to the experience eye."

Swimming and going to the beach and in the water are fun but only when it's safe to go out there and do so.

If the lifeguards or beach authorities say it's not okay to go in or go past a certain point, it's not.

Rip current risks are high on Friday
Rip current risks are high (archive photo, Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol)
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"The dangers are -- you get yourself into a little bit of deep water and then the water is sweeping you out to sea and if you're not a strong swimmer, all of a sudden, you're a lot further offshore than you anticipated and then the panic sets in and all of a sudden you're in a lot of trouble," Costanzo said.

If you see someone drowning, it's important to act right away.

"There are different types of drowning -- dry drowning and aspiration of water -- I think in that instance, with the ocean being a little bit colder, you have to get the patient to shore as quickly as possible," Costanzo said.

When it comes to injuries related to a surfing accident or from a similar incident, there is a certain way the victim has to be taken care of right away as well.

"I think it's paramount to stabilize the spine and the body and get the person back to shore as safely and as quickly with as little mobility as possible," Costanzo said. "With head and neck injuries and surfing injuries, it's all about immobility and stability and really deferring to the experts."

Near Drowning at Bradley Beach
(Bud McCormick)
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Dr. Nasim Ahmed, Chief of Trauma at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, explains bystanders have a critical role to play when someone suffers an injury in the water.

"Bystanders and those around the incident are the first providers to save lives," Ahmed said. "The bystander can go and pick the person up out of the water and then provide some first aid depending on the person's condition. If the person is unconscious and doesn't have a pulse, then do immediate CPR and ask for help."

It's the most important thing you can do at such a time is to help out the person in peril.

"Time is of the essence, if a patient is unconscious in the water, there is no oxygen going into their brain," Ahmed said.

Surfboard and lifeguard gear on the beach in Harvey Cedars. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Surfboard and lifeguard gear on the beach in Harvey Cedars. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)
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A Brick Township man who suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury in a July 2021 surfing accident at the beach in Sea Girt was able to fight his way back to full health and that includes being able to walk again.

The now 58-year-old Paul Bouchard says bystanders saved his life that day.

"I found out that I was pulled out of the ocean by Good Samaritans -- I was seen floating face down -- and an amazing husband and wife team pulled me out of the ocean and then a bystander from Massachusetts had started initially with CPR and chest compressions," Bouchard said.

Then a team of lifeguards responded to the scene of the early morning accident and took it from there.

(Photo: Sea Girt Lifeguards)
(Photo: Sea Girt Lifeguards)
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"They weren't on duty, yet, that day, and they basically came to take over the emergency care right at the shoreline and they were able to get my heart started," Bouchard said.

He set out, like he had so many other times, attached the surfboard to his ankle, had a go-pro strapped on and went out to surf.

Bouchard doesn't remember much after that.

"I was surfing for about an hour and a half and then I remember hearing some terrible noise and it was actually me struggling to breathe," Bouchard said. "I heard that before I awoke from being unconscious."

Then he woke up.

"I was basically looking up at the sky and I had all sand in my face and I thought I was dreaming, knowing that I was just surfing, and not knowing what was going on," Bouchard said.

The Sea Girt beach and boardwalk
The Sea Girt beach and boardwalk (Bud McCormick)
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He soon then realized that he couldn't move or feel anything.

"I was completely paralyzed, I couldn't feel anything from the neck down," Bouchard said. "My body was just missing; I couldn't feel it there at all."

As part of the surfing accident, he drowned and suffered cardiac arrest.

When paramedics arrived on scene, he was rushed to Jersey Shore University Medical Center where he had multiple surgeries including to address the injury between the C6 & C7 vertebrae which included a fracture.

He was hospitalized at Jersey Shore University Medical Center for just 11-days after the injury.

(Photo Courtesy: Eric Muench/Hackensack Meridian Health)
(Photo Courtesy: Eric Muench/Hackensack Meridian Health)
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Bouchard was told by his wife who was informed he'd be admitted in a rehab facility for six months.

He was able to walk out after just 8 days.

While it's been a long and difficult journey to recovery over the last couple of years, Bouchard is grateful to be alive.

"I came back and I'm here and I'm walking and I'm working, and I have the support of my family and friends," Bouchard said. "I've been really blessed at a second chance at life."

The story of Paul Bouchard is the subject of an upcoming documentary-movie produced on behalf of the Sea Girt Beach Patrol and Paul himself.

The film -- which you can view the trailer for here -- will then be sent out by the Sea Girt Beach Patrol across the country through the American Lifeguard Association.

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