By Patricia Griffiths.
Gasps from passengers aboard a ski boat signaled trouble to the driver, 20-year-old Ryan Perez, at Detroit Lake, Oregon on July 21, 2023. Checking his rear-view mirror, he saw the wakeboarder, his uncle Tabor Waterstreet, lying face down in the water.
For Waterstreet, who regularly executed extreme wakeboarding tricks, a fall was commonplace. But this time, as a result of the impact at high speed, his fall was like crashing face first onto a sidewalk. Stunned or unconscious, he was unable to breathe under water.
Perez swung into action. He had trained as a lifeguard, and, though he doesn’t recall what he did, learned what happened later from the boat passengers who were also family members. He turned the boat around to approach his uncle, tore off his shirt, and jumped into the water while the boat was still moving. Pulling Waterstreet’s face out of water and putting his head into a life-saving tow, he realized there was another problem. His uncle was still tethered to the wakeboard.
Perez’s lifeguard instructor, John Carballo, explained the challenge this caused. “The other obstacle he had was the wakeboard. It can be 3-4’ long and 2’ wide, so it’s this barn door strapped to the foot acting as an anchor pulling him,” he said. “Ryan had one arm around Tabor and with his free arm, swimming and kicking with all his might. Ryan said, ‘if I’d taken the board off, Tabor’s head might have gone down again.’” Carballo assessed Perez’s effort, “it says a lot about the peak kind of condition Ryan was in to be able to tow him in. So, just a herculean effort to that point.”
By the time they reached the boat, Waterstreet was conscious but dazed and having trouble clearing his airway of water. Perez handed his uncle’s head to a passenger, while he freed his uncle from the wakeboard. Then, the other passengers pulled his uncle aboard the boat. Once Perez was also aboard, he provided immediate triage, so his uncle could breathe freely. He observed that Waterstreet’s pupils were not the same size, which is a sign of possible concussion. Help was needed immediately.
However, the boat dock was about a half hour boat ride away. Fortunately, medical assistance would be available there, because another family member waiting on the dock was a paramedic. During the interim, Perez stayed with his uncle, provided further triage and apprised those on the dock of his uncle’s condition. Family members at the dock met them and rushed Waterstreet to the hospital. He was later released and returned to the family outing by the lake.
Perez described the moment he saw his uncle return. “He was doing a lot better. I felt extremely relieved and a lot of other emotions I can’t categorize. It was scary. It was an extraordinary relief.”
Pulling from that experience, he said, “I would definitely recommend everyone take a lifesaving class. When the time came I didn’t have time to think, I just defaulted to what I learned from a Red Cross class at the pool. So, I was able to jump in and make sure things didn’t get worse.”
Because he made sure things didn’t get worse, Ryan Perez’s heroic action that summer day resulted in a scary story with a happy ending.
For his actions, Ryan will be awarded the Certificate of Merit Lifesaving award from the American Red Cross in front of his family, friends and the Forest Grove City Council on January 22nd. As one city leader puts it, “it’s truly a family affair.”
Emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere. Be prepared by taking Red Cross lifesaving, CPR and other preparedness and safety classes with your friends and family. For more information, go to https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class.