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72-year-old Saved From Breton Bay Learns Valuable Safety Lesson

  • St Mary's County
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LEONARDTOWN, Md. - “I thought I was going to be gone.”  Luke Horvath was minutes away from drowning when John and April Vallandingham plucked him from the cold waters of Breton Bay last Thursday evening. TheBayNet shared the story of how a last-minute change in plans led to the pair spotting a struggling swimmer and pulling him to safety.

But now, it turns out the story of survival is even more miraculous. The 72-year-old retired social worker shared the events that led up to the rescue and explained how this brush with death changed the way he behaves on the water.

Horvath said he’d been enjoying the water for over five decades. He started surfing 54 years ago and has also been a paddleboarder for many years. The Florida native was in SOMD visiting his fiancée and decided to head out into Breton Bay on a stand-up paddleboard. Despite a Parkinson’s diagnosis, he likes to stay active and said he felt safe on the water.

“I Thought I Was Going Under”

Horvath said he was having a good day. He paddled from Breton Bay Dock to the other side of the bay. He started the trip back around 2:30 pm. That’s when things went wrong. He fell off his paddleboard.

The experienced paddleboarder wasn’t wearing a leash to keep the board hooked to him. However, he didn’t grab for the board first. “I had a brand-new paddle and I tried to rescue the paddle first.”  Also complicating the matter, Horvath had a new inflatable paddleboard. “The paddleboard I used had a high profile and the wind got hold of it and took it away from me.  By the time I looked up, the paddleboard was beyond getting to. I had a life vest on and it didn't allow me to swim far.”

He said the inflatable life vest presented another problem, he’d failed to put the C02 cartridge in. He attempted to take the cartridge from a pocket in the vest. “By that time, my hands were too cold. I dropped it. I guess it sank to the bottom of the bay.”

His only option was to attempt to float back towards the dock. Horvath was in the water for three hours. Horvath said he thought he was going under several times. “When I thought I was going to go under I'd roll over and take deeper breaths.”

Just when the exhausted man was about to give up hope, John and April Vallandingham spotted him. “I guess it wasn’t my time to go. They found me in the nick of time. I was ready to go under. My legs were shuddering I was chilled to the bones.”

Horvath was too weak to grab a flotation device, so the couple pulled him from the water and onto their boat. “He threw a blanket around me and tried to heat me up.”

Valuable Lessons

First responders were waiting at the dock to take him to St. Mary’s Hospital. That’s when Horvath got a surprise. His ordeal in the water had triggered a heart attack. Doctors transferred him to a Washington, D.C. hospital for a heart catherization. The test revealed a partial blockage. 

He was released on Sunday morning. “I’ll follow up with a cardiologist when I get back to Orlando.”

Horvath said he’s learned some valuable lessons.  He said he usually doesn’t wear a life vest while paddleboarding but that’s going to change. “I'm going to wear my life vest and a leash from now on. Not an inflatable. It’s too much to do when you have to put it on.”

Horvath was able to meet up with his rescuers before heading home to Florida. “They came over today and I got them a bottle of champagne and a bottle of vodka.”

After his rescue, he discovered that the current had swept him past the dock he was hoping to float to. “When they got to me, I was about ready to give up. Anyway, I got rescued and that’s what’s important.”

John and April Vallandingham

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