(July 12, 2019) The sharp eyes and precise teamwork of several Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeguards helped save the life of a visitor who suffered severe neck and spine injuries on July 4.
Benjamin Paepcke, 19, of Baltimore, ran across the sand with two of his friends near the 38th Street beach and dove into shallow waters.
The two friends got up, laughed and continued to play around in the water, not noticing that Paepcke had yet to stand.
Beach patrol Crew Chief RJ Hayman, a four-year veteran of the group, sensed something was wrong.
“The guard that … happened to be at my stand, I hit him on the shoulder and I said ‘Go, go right now,’ and I sent him in … immediately,” Hayman said.
The lifeguard who Hayman sent was SRT Matt Egley, a rookie who had only been patrolling for three weeks.
“He did exactly what he was taught to do, which is the shallow water spinal cord extraction,” Hayman said. “Basically, you’re putting the head in a splint [and] you’re trying to stabilize the spine the best way you can.”
Hayman had high praise for Egley, whose quick thinking prevented further tragedy.
“Eggs [Hayman’s nickname for Egley] really did save his life, because if he didn’t flip him over, he could have drowned,” Hayman said.
Hayman’s superior used a radio to call in for more help, and within minutes Assistant Crew Chief Joanna Kulp and first responder Jay Banks were there to assist Hayman and Egley.
A few beach patrons attempted to aid the crew, but Hayman said that despite their good intentions, they could have ended up causing more harm than good.
“To beach patrons, it looks like we’re just pulling the victim out of the water,” Hayman said. “They don’t understand that we’re…stabilizing the body…So I had to shout at a couple of people to get off of Ben because they could have ended up hurting him more.”
Throughout the ordeal, Hayman said that Paepcke was conscious and fully aware of his surroundings. Hayman was in awe of how calm Paepcke was, despite the gravity of the situation.
“I give full props to Ben,” Hayman said. “He was so strong about the whole thing.”
Paepcke constantly kept the crew updated as to his condition, and never panicked, Hayman said.
While the crew got Paepcke out of the water, other members of Beach Patrol worked on finding Paepcke transportation to a hospital.
“I called for a helicopter, but … the weather was so bad west of us, the Baltimore area, they had to take him by ambulance,” Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin said.
Paepcke was transported by ambulance to the Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, where his condition was stabilized before he was sent to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.
Friends and family of Paepcke have been updating their social media about his condition. All of these posts may be found on Beach Patrol Alumni’s Facebook page, as well.
“Thank you for saving my son Benjamin’s life,” his mother Lillian Paepcke commented in one of Beach Patrol’s posts. “I’m forever grateful. He is strong and a survivor. We are a faithful family and believe in miracles. God works in mysterious ways. Thank you Ocean City Beach Patrol and especially my heroes.”
Paepcke broke his neck at C5 and suffered spinal cord damage. These injuries could leave him paralyzed for the rest of his life.
His mother’s most recent updates have said that Paepcke has been conscience and fully aware of his surroundings, but has been struggling with a fever.
As of Thursday morning, Paepcke was preparing to go in for a tracheotomy, which is a procedure done to assist in breathing.
The family has set up a Go Fund Me page, and friends of the family are selling T-shirts.
Their goal is to raise $200,000 to cover Paepcke’s medical expenses, and, as of Thursday, it has reached $47,681.
The beach patrol monitors the Ocean City beach from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, from Memorial Day weekend until Sept. 22.
Arbin and Hayman stressed the importance of swimming during these hours, and also following all of the safety notices posted on the beach.
“We put the information out there to not do these things,” Hayman said.
“On the back of the lifeguard stands are signs that say, ‘shallow waters, no diving or flips.’”
Additionally, a boat goes through the waters with a screen that says, “diving into shallow water or body surfing in an unsafe manner could cause neck injury or paralysis.”
Many people have called the beach patrol lifeguards heroes, but Hayman rejected this notion.
“I don’t agree with it at all,” he said. “If it happened on my beach, if it happened at the inlet, if it happened on 130th Street, wherever it happened in Ocean City, it could happen on anybody’s beach. We’re all trained the same…no matter where one of us goes…we know how to operate.”
For updates on Benjamin’s condition follow Ocean City Beach Patrol Alumni on Facebook.
To help Benjamin, donate to his Go Fund Me page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/d5tusu-prayers-for-pap or you can buy a shirt: http://webeetees.com/prayers_for_pap/shop/home?fbclid=IwAR11BTbhEYFRtf0BmwSOFDe2JV7PBfMcD74An21q88Sqd973aIMTtjv8csw