That’s how long Vancouver father Saurabh Kalra was underwater before he was rescued.
BC Children’s Program Manager Flávia Mandic had been exercising with two friends at a condo workout facility overlooking a private pool in November when they noticed something strange happening in the water.
“One woman on the treadmill said she saw a man who was splashing and went underwater, but he never came back up,” says Mandic. “We didn’t move. Then she yelled, ‘I’m not joking!’”
Mandic and her two friends left the workout room and went to look in the pool. At first, it looked like there was nothing in the pool, but then they noticed a man’s figure, lying on one of the black lines at the bottom of the pool.
“I told one person to call 9-1-1, we tossed in a floatation device and my friends and I jumped in,” says Mandic. “One of my friends swam down and tried to pull his arm, but he wouldn’t move.”
The trio had to dive down and surface to breathe numerous times. Finally one of the rescuers managed to get a foot under Kalra’s midsection and lift him so that another could reach under his chest and carry him to the surface.
“They all assumed he was dead. I could see his lips were totally blue. We could only get his arms out of the water so one of us jumped up on the side of the pool and pulled his chest while two of us in the pool grabbed his legs,” says Mandic. “It was very hard because he was very big and we’re pretty small.”
Once Kalra was out of the pool, Mandic, who is also trained as a nurse, knew what to do.
“I am comfortable around unconscious people. I thought ‘Now, I can be useful.’”
Mandic performed Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until paramedics arrived, even though the situation was chaotic. One bystander was standing in the corner of the room and crying, while another was telling Mandic the man was likely dead and someone else was asking Mandic if she knew what she was doing. (Conversations later would show that person was going to offer to take over because she, too, knew CPR.)
“I just didn’t have time to discuss it. I had to keep going,” Mandic says. “It had been five years since my last CPR session, but they always said ‘Doing what you remember is better than doing nothing.’”
When paramedics arrived, Kalra had coughed and his lips were pink once again, though he was still unconscious. Mandic counted his respirations and they were 12 per minute. A normal respiration rate for an adult at rest is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. She could also see a pulse in his neck.
The emergency crew shocked him and started intravenous therapy.
As the paramedics loaded him on the stretcher, Kalra’s two children emerged from the dressing room, where they had been changing after swimming with their father.
The group shielded the children, aged four and seven, from the stretcher and a neighbour took them home as their father was whisked away to Vancouver General Hospital.
The pool had a surveillance camera and care-providers asked the condo complex’s manager to watch it and tell them exactly how long Kalra had been underwater.
The condo manager watched the video and reported back: six minutes.
The condo manager also relayed that information to the trio of rescuers, along with an update from Kalra’s wife… he was going to be fine.
“I thought his wife misunderstood,” says Mandic. “We really don’t know how he made it without brain damage. You google six minutes and drowning and it’s not good.”
Studies show permanent brain damage begins after four minutes without oxygen and death can occur as soon as 4 to 6 minutes later.
Kalra woke up at the hospital… and remembered everything.
“I remembered I saw someone on the treadmill before I waved and went underwater,” says Kalra. “Everything happened so fast.”
The consultant had recently moved to Vancouver from India and was taking his kids to the pool in his condo complex for the first time.
He had taken swimming lessons at shallow pools in India and he lived in the U.S. for a few months at a building that also had a shallow pool with no deep end.
The pool at his new Vancouver residence, though, is between four and eight feet deep.
“I had no expectation the pool would be that deep or that steep of an incline,” says Kalra. “I spent half an hour playing with the kids and sent them in to get changed. I thought I would spend five minutes in the pool on my own, but then the ground disappeared out from under my feet.”
“At my house, no one knew what happened,” he says. “My children saw paramedic uniforms and thought they were police. They went home and told my wife I’d been arrested. Even the paramedics didn’t have time to tell my wife what happened.”
His wife left the kids with a neighbour and ran down in time to hop into the ambulance. Her husband was unconscious and bleeding from his nose. She worried he’d been in some sort of fight.
At the hospital, she finally learned he’d nearly drowned.
It took Kalra two days to regain consciousness. Tests have since shown that he has no brain or physical damage and after spending four days in hospital, he got up and walked out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
“I think they were very surprised I went straight from the ICU back home and didn’t have to go to any other ward,” says Kalra.
His wife went back to the pool to look around and, as luck would have it, met one of the rescuers, who happened to be working out again.
The three rescuers were invited to meet with the family. Kalra’s wife cried through the whole visit.
One of the biggest lessons for both Kalra and Mandic is that CPR can save a life, even after six minutes without oxygen.
Mandic has since enrolled her husband and teenage son in CPR and she’s getting retrained.
Kalra says he’s also learned how important it is to help others. He’s taking life slower and appreciating spending time with his family.
“It’s sort of a miracle that I’m alive and my organs are working well,” says Kalra. “I think I’m very, very lucky to have someone who knew CPR around me when I needed it.”
To learn more about CPR or sign up for classes, visit: