‘Happy ending’: La Jolla woman thanks those who saved her after surfing injury
Wearing cookies and smiles, Margie Lord walked into San Diego Fire Station 9 on Ardath Lane in La Jolla on March 23 to thank the lifeguards and paramedics who she says are the reason she can walk at all.
Lord also presented a check for $4,700 to the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation – money raised by his friends to be distributed among the stations responsible for his rescue after a surfing accident off La Jolla.
A dozen San Diego Fire Department employees gathered to hear Lord’s story of her recovery and answer her questions about her crash and rescue — a day she doesn’t remember much.
On Jan. 10, Lord, a longtime La Jolla resident and realtor who’s been surfing for 20 years, rode the “last wave” of his usual surf session just north of Scripps Pier in La Jolla Shores.
It was low tide, and Lord said the shallow water “pushed me over the nose of the board and I hit headfirst in about two feet of water.”
“I knew immediately something very serious had happened,” Lord said; she was unable to walk or drag herself out of the water.
She motioned for another surfer to help her, and that person called another surfer to help pull Lord out of the water and help him lay down.
“I was in extreme pain,” Lord said.
One of the surfers alerted Ashleigh Palinkas, dive program technician at Scripps Dive Locker, to call 911. Rescuers from a tower further south in The Shores arrived in their truck to immobilize Lord and the transfer to a waiting ambulance.
“We knew it was serious right away,” said lifeguard Sgt. said John Maher.
Paramedics took Lord to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, where she underwent MRIs and CT scans and was soon operated on.
“She broke a lot of vertebrae,” said her husband, Tom Lord.
The surgeon opened Margie’s trapezius muscle to fuse five vertebrae in her neck and back with eight screws.
She was in hospital for just under a week and is waiting to start physical therapy so she can resume upper body exercises and driving.
“I can’t really move my neck,” Margie said, and she still has minor paralysis in her right hand.
She has yet to get back on a surfboard, although she said it would come: “I want to get back in the water, obviously.”
At the end of January, she received a large floral bouquet from around twenty friends dating back to her primary school years who had learned of her accident on social networks.
Along with the flowers, Margie learned that her friends raised $4,700 for local lifeguards and Fire Station 9.
Coordinating the donation with Wendy Robinson, executive director of the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation, Margie asked for help in organizing a moment to thank those who helped her.
“I wanted to meet you guys,” Margie told the group. “I know a lot of times when you’re taking calls you don’t know what’s going on, and in my case it was a happy ending. … I’m really grateful to all of you for what you’ve done.
Margie has also been in touch with Palinkas to thank. She said she still hasn’t found the two surfers – one of whom she says is named Ben – who pulled her from the water. “I would like to thank them,” she said.
Margie and her husband credit her rescuers with her ability to walk today.
“The neurosurgeon called me after the operation [and] said she was one millimeter from total paralysis,” Tom told rescuers. “It’s amazing, the job you’ve done.”
San Diego Fire Department Battalion Chief Erik Windsor said “it was no accident” that Margie was spared more serious injuries. The department, which includes fire and rescue services, “is by far one of the best in the United States,” he said.
“We are trained, we are prepared,” Windsor said. “Plan and perfect [are] what we do.
He added that the department is constantly updating its spinal immobilization protocols and that other rescue services around the country often ask San Diego for guidance on training.
Maher said accidents like Margie’s are common and such rescues “become second nature,” especially since one member of his team, Michael Kennedy, is a registered nurse.
What is rare, however, is to be thanked by an accident victim afterwards, Windsor said. “We don’t often see people after sending them to the hospital, and often we wonder and worry. [about them]. … We live a life without closure.
Margie coming to say thank you “means a lot to me,” Windsor said. ◆