Rescuers receive special thank-you | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Rescuers receive special thank-you

by Andy Bourelle

Sacramento resident Louis Elfenbaum and his fiance Elizabeth Lefcort visited Lake Tahoe this weekend – not to cool off on the beaches or to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

They came to say thank you.

On Aug. 20, Elfenbaum nearly drowned in Lake Tahoe, and he wanted to express his gratitude to the people who pulled him from the water.

Lake Tahoe Water Ski School instructors Heather Longoria and Shannon Vuple, as well as two passengers accompanying their sons on ski lessons, pulled Elfenbaum out before hypothermia and the cold water took him.

“There is no way in the world to repay these people, and they did a magnificent, wonderful deed,” he said. “They literally saved my life.”

Elfenbaum, a frequent visitor to Lake Tahoe, was floating on a raft at Baldwin Beach, something he had done 30 to 40 times in the last 10 years. The raft, however, wasn’t much of a raft. It was more of a “pool toy,” Elfenbaum said.

“Every single time I’ve done this, the current has taken me back to shore. It always annoyed me because I would have to drag the boat back out into the water,” he said. “For some strange reason, the current was going out this time, toward the middle of the lake.”

He had his head down, not really paying attention. The current moved him, the breeze picked up and the next thing he knew, he was more than 500 feet from shore.

“I’m not a great swimmer. I can swim on my back, and I do quite well, but I’m comfortable in water only if I’m able to touch the bottom,” he said.

Worried that he would be taken out farther, Elfenbaum tried to paddle toward shore – and accidentally capsized the boat.

In the water, he panicked at first, swallowing a lot of water.

He held onto the raft and regained some control, knowing that, eventually, someone would come to his aid.

Elfenbaum said he felt OK – confident. However, looking back, he realizes he was in a “euphoric state.” The euphoria was a result of hypothermia, he now knows.

His fiance realized something was wrong and attempted to get help. A swimmer and someone in a raft headed toward him, and that is when the boat – holding Longoria, Vuple and passengers Marty Salazar and Bryan Wyatt – arrived.

“We could hear him making noise, but at first we didn’t know if he was goofing off or if he wasn’t OK,” Longoria said.

However, when he stopped kicking and wasn’t moving any more, they knew he was in trouble.

“At that point, Lou was pretty much finished. He was done,” she said. “We just pulled him into the boat and got him into some warm clothes. We found (Lefcort), and she took him to the hospital. It was really no big deal.”

To him, however, it was a really big deal.

When they brought him to shore, Lefcort said, he was “ash white.” He felt dizzy and light headed. Elfenbaum spent three hours at Barton Memorial Hospital being treated for hypothermia. X-rays revealed significant amounts of water in his lungs. His euphoric state was classified as “classic pre-drowning syndrome.”

The couple drove to Sacramento that day, and still he felt ill. The next day he began to feel better.

“It really makes you appreciate the life that you have, when you experience something like this,” Lefcort said.

Elfenbaum said he has learned from the experience. He has learned to respect nature and its potential dangers, and he has learned something about people.

“There are still people out there who are willing to save you. They will come to your rescue and come to your aid,” he said. “I hope they take some pride from what they did.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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