April 18, 2007 Edition

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Friend is real lifesaver when
WR resident's heart stops

Randy Gaines (right) of Walnut Ridge thanks Randy Looney, also of Walnut Ridge, for saving his life while the two were fishing recently.
Gretchen Hunt

On March 28, Randy Gaines decided to take advantage of a nice spring day and do a little fishing on Lake Charles.

"Little did I know the choice I made that day would bring me to death's door," Gaines said.

He was planning to fish with a friend, Ray Maxie, but Maxie told Gaines he needed to mow his lawn and had to pass on fishing that day.

Gaines said normally he would have just gone on by himself, but he decided to ask another friend, Randy Looney, also of Walnut Ridge, to come along.

The two loaded their gear in Gaines' truck and headed for Lake Charles. They launched a small johnboat and headed for a favorite fishing spot they have dubbed "Copperhead Cove."

There was a breeze blowing, so the men decided to drop anchor weights to still the boat. They had been fishing for about 10 minutes when the unexpected happened.

"We were about 30 yards from the shore fishing around a tree where we knew crappie could be had," Gaines said. "Suddenly, I felt weak and dizzy. I reached out to take hold of the trolling motor handle to steady myself. From this point, I remember nothing for a time."

Looney, however, remembers every detail of the following moments.

"He suddenly slumped and rolled head first into the lake," Looney said. "The boat rocked violently on its side throwing me into the water, too. The shock of the cold water and the catapult into the lake confused me."

When Looney resurfaced, he began to survey the scene.

"Randy was floating face down next to the boat, which had righted itself," Looney said. "I saw a boat way out in the middle of the lake. I began waving wildly, yelling for help. They could not hear.

"I began swimming toward the boat when Randy began to stiffen, clearly bowing up out of the water. He relaxed and immediately sank. I thought he had drowned. When I reached the spot where he had been, all I could see of him was his blue shirt beneath the murky surface.

"I plunged down trying to reach him. After what seemed an eternity, I finally felt cloth between my fingers and I latched onto the material, pulling with all I had. Randy popped up but was still unconscious."

Looney said he began yelling, "Grab the boat, grab the boat," and soon he saw Gaines' hand come up and take the side.

At this point, neither man could feel the bottom of the lake, and Gaines was still disoriented. He told Looney that his heart defibrillator must have kicked in because his heart stopped and then began beating again.

Gaines said once he got his bearings back, he reached up and grabbed the trolling motor handle and turned it toward the bank. Gaines, who had lost his glasses in the fall, had to rely on Looney to direct him back to the shore. The men held onto the sides of the boat as it pulled them to shore.

"Slowly, due to the wind and the anchors pulling us back, we moved forward," Looney said. "Finally, standing in waist-deep water near the shore, we were thankful to be alive."

Gaines said one of the most important lessons he took away from the experience, and that he wants to share with others, is that wearing a life jacket is always a priority. "It doesn't matter how good you are with boats or how strong a swimmer you are, you never know what is going to happen," he said.

Gaines said despite their mistake in not putting their life jackets on that day, he is thankful for all the circumstances that helped save his life, and he is especially thankful to God.

"I am thankful that Ray could not go fishing that day because he is a small fellow compared to me and he might not have been able to pull me out," Gaines said. "I'm very thankful to my friend, Randy Looney, who kept his head and saved my life. I'm thankful for the defibrillator that did its job. More than anyone else, though, I am thankful to God who is not finished with me yet. I am thankful to be alive."

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