02 December 2005

Diver Dan student grateful to be alive after near drowning

The last thing Kimberly Pratt said she saw was the sun shining through the blue ocean as she swam toward the surface. Then, she swallowed another gulp of salt water and lost consciousness, falling toward the sea floor.

A scuba diving instructor found her facedown on the sandy bottom of Monterey Bay, some 15 to 30 feet below the morning air, Pratt said. By her own account, she should have been dead.

But on Monday, one day after her near-drowning, Pratt laughed heartily about her brush with death from her hospital bed in Monterey. The vivacious fifth-grade teacher at Union City's Cabello Elementary School said she was thankful to be alive. She planned to return to her Hayward home today.

"I should have died," she said, sand still in her hair. "I should have died."

Pratt was working toward her scuba diving certificate and had been in the cold water about 10 minutes when she removed her mouthpiece to inflate her buoyancy vest manually. It was a routine exercise, but when she tried to reattach the device connected to her air tank, it caught on something. She motioned to her dive instructor that she was swimming toward the surface for air. She never panicked.

When she didn't surface with the rest of her group, a dive instructor from Diver Dan's, the scuba diving shop in Santa Clara that ran the lesson, went in after her, she said. She was pulled to the surface and then to the beach, where someone performed CPR on her until paramedics from the Monterey Fire Department arrived.

Pratt said she was told she was pale and had no pulse when she was pulled from the water. She came to in the ambulance on the way to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

"We don't know how long I was unconscious," she said. A CT scan at the hospital showed that her brain was not damaged from the oxygen loss. "You wouldn't believe this hospital staff. They are like, 'You are so lucky.'"

Pratt, a beginning scuba diver, said repeatedly that she never should have been left alone in the water. She said she planned to speak with instructors from Diver Dan's.

The dive shop owner, Dan King, was not in the store Monday afternoon, and employees who answered the phone said they could not comment because they were not at the dive site on Sunday. Employees said they would contact King on his cell phone on behalf of The Argus, but the owner did not call the newspaper back.

Since Pratt was a young girl growing up in Hayward, she has been entranced by marine life. In July, she was featured in The Argus, days before she left on a three-week voyage aboard a research vessel owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

She was selected to berth on the ship and study dolphins and whales as part of NOAA's Teacher at Sea Program. Traveling from Seattle to San Francisco this summer only deepened her interest in ocean life and compelled her to scuba dive, she said. But after this, she doesn't expect to plunge into the ocean with a scuba tank again.

Pratt is, however, scheduled to board another NOAA research vessel this spring, this time bringing another teacher from the New Haven school district on board.

"When I'm back around the water, I'll be fine," she said. "As long as I don't go underneath."

Source: www.underwatertimes.com
Original Article: www.insidebayarea.com/argus/localnews


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