Elderly snorkeller on the mend

Schaefer: ‘They’re taking real good care of me’

swimmer rescued lg

Joe Schaefer has been coming to the Cayman Islands for nearly three decades.  

You might say that the 86-year-old Texan’s latest trip to Grand Cayman this past week has been his most adventurous. 

The octogenarian was rescued during a snorkel off the George Town waterfront on Friday, 13 April with his daughter Susan. On Wednesday, he was up and at ’em in the Cayman Islands 
Hospital’s medical care unit.  

“Yeah, I’m doing fine and eating three meals a day,” Mr. Schaefer said. “They’re taking real good care of me here.”  

Mr. Schaefer was hopeful of being able to head back home to San Antonio this Saturday, pending doctors’ diagnoses of his condition. He had to have water drawn from his lungs at the hospital and was administered CPR for a full six minutes before he was revived after his Friday morning swim.  

Eden Rock Diving Centre employee Scott Smith was involved in the rescue. Mr. Smith said it appeared Mr. Schaefer had suffered a “small heart attack” while on the swim about 50 yards of 
the coast line.  

“I heard a shout and looked out and saw a woman holding a guy afloat in the water,” Mr. Smith said. The England native, who has only been working in the Cayman Islands about four months, grabbed his snorkel mask and swam out to the pair.  

By the time he got there, the elderly man was underwater and no longer breathing. His daughter, despite her best efforts, couldn’t keep him afloat. “He wasn’t breathing and there was a lot of foam and blood coming out of his mouth,” Mr. Smith said. “I just flipped him over and took him back to shore.”  

Others assisted in the rescue last Friday, including North Side residents Michael Maes, Mr. Maes’ wife Ellen Cuylaerts, and Robert Wood. Mr. Smith said a young man who appeared to be a cruise ship passenger also assisted in administering CPR.  

“I am grateful,” Mr. Schaefer said. “Boy, I couldn’t believe they had a guy standing right there that could do CPR on me.”  

Mr. Maes, who described Mr. Schaefer’s recovery as “miraculous”, said most of the dive centre crews at Eden Rock are EFR-certified. However, he said a combined rescue effort, including the rapid assistance of Cayman Islands Emergency Medical Services crews, contributed to saving a life.  

“[Mr. Schaefer] must be a very strong man at his 86,” Mr. Maes said, adding that he and Ms Cuylaerts later visited Mr. Schaefer in the hospital and had a picture taken together with the man they saved.  

Strong as he might be for his age, Mr. Schaefer admits he’ll probably have to give up his snorkelling adventures.  

“I guess my snorkelling days are over,” he said. “I’ve been snorkelling since I was 20 years old.”  

The elderly Texan and his family have been to the Cayman Islands about 15 times during the past 30 years. Mr. Schaefer has owned a time share at Plantation Village since 1983. He said it’s possible he could come back at least one more time before selling off his share.  

“It’s a lovely island,” he said. 

swimmer rescued

Joe Schaefer, 86, in the Cayman Islands Hospital with two of his rescuers, Ellen Cuylaerts and Michael Maes. – Photo: Michael Maes

Comments are closed.