LI woman finds rescuer 49 years after nearly drowning
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The voice mail, left a few weeks ago, was from a woman named Edie Rothstein.
Dr. Larry Brickman didn't recognize the name.
Then, he knew. Blue eyes, yellow bathing suit: Almost half a century ago, she nearly drowned before he pushed air back into her lungs.
At 3:30 in the afternoon on Sept. 4, 1964, a Friday that topped 91 degrees, the pool was packed at the Colony Beach and Cabana Club, one of a handful of private clubs that then lined the oceanfront.
"There wasn't an inch of room," said Brickman, 69, in a recent phone interview. He was 21 then, pre-med at Michigan State, home in Long Beach for the summer and working as a lifeguard, a $100-a-week job lined up by a Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity brother.
"I looked down to see her in a dead-man's float, with her arms hanging down," Brickman said. "I jumped in, and when I pulled her up, I remember her eyes were wide open."
Edith Rothstein, 53, was then Edith Kaplan, 5. "I can remember being underwater screaming," she said.
She doesn't recall what happened next. Brickman never forgot. He began mouth-to-mouth, although he said lifeguards in that era weren't trained in the technique. He was operating more on intuition than any knowledge of the practice.
"That girl's gone," he remembers a doctor in the crowd telling him. Brickman kept going.
After about 3 minutes, she regurgitated. "I reached into her mouth, removed whatever was in there, continued to breathe for her."
When Edith came to, she began to cry. An ambulance soon arrived. He never saw her again.
Newsday marked the incident a day later with a few column inches under the headline, "Lifeguard Breathes Life Into Child."
It confirms the outlines of the memories shared by Brickman and Rothstein's cousin Ellen Cundari, also present that day, minus the throwing up and with the additional detail that Edith had no pulse when she was pulled from the water. Also, the story says, it was her salesman father, Ralph Kaplan, who pulled her from the pool.
Today, the Colony and five neighboring clubs are gone, converted into condominiums, parks and public beaches.
Brickman teaches surgery at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where he moved in 2005 after practicing medicine on Long Island for 30 years, including a stint as head of general surgery at Huntington Hospital.
He estimates he's performed nearly 12,000 operations, some of them lifesaving. He said he learned that day "what a wonderful, wonderful feeling" it is to save a life; for him, the day was confirmation he'd chosen the right path.
Rothstein lives in Franklin Lakes, N.J., raised a son, Justin, and taught school in Florida and Brooklyn after graduating from the University of South Florida in Tampa. She has a pool and swims laps regularly for exercise.
Cleaning house recently, she found a scrapbook with the account of her near-death.
She'd always wanted to thank Brickman; and that night, with help from her Google-savvy son, found his Florida office phone number. "Thank you," she said, when they spoke at last a few weeks ago.
"We just got lucky that day, both of us," he told her.