Henry Duarte is breathing a bit easier Saturday after visiting the young girl he rescued from the Brookhaven Town pool in Centereach the evening before.
“She was a little shaken up and scared,” Duarte said about the 6-year-old girl he visited in the hospital Friday night. “She said very little, but just getting a big, strong, high five from her gave me the assurance that she would be OK.”
Duarte, 39, pulled the girl from the water about 5:10 p.m. Friday, Suffolk police said. He handed her to lifeguards who gave her rescue breaths until she spit out water. She was rushed to Stony Brook University Hospital and was in stable condition Friday night.
Duarte said he was invited to meet the girls’ parents and he quickly arranged to meet the girl’s father at the hospital.
“Seeing her at the hospital awake and coherent, I really started crying hard,” Duarte said. “It just made me so emotional. I’m better today. Yesterday I was so emotional.”
Duarte, a Port Washington resident, brought his 7-year-old twins, Sofia and Santino, along for the visit late Friday night. He declined to identify the young girl. Duarte said he has yet to meet the girl’s mother but the two have been communicating via text message and are planning a play date in the near future for their children.
Duarte was in the water helping a boy search for his missing goggles Friday when he saw the girl lying face down at the 4-foot end of the pool.
“I just needed to try to get that image out of my brain and see her face again,” Duarte said Saturday before he left home for his shift as a waiter. “And thank God I was able to.”
There has never been a drowning at the Brookhaven Town pool in Centereach in the more than 30 years it has been open, spokesman Kevin Molloy said, adding that the Suffolk County Health Department met with the pool staff Saturday morning. It is standard procedure for the health department to do so after a saving, Molloy said.
According to Molloy, the pool had a "full complement" of lifeguards on duty at the time of the rescue: four in the liifeguard chairs, two on decks, two on the slides, a supervisor and six on standby. The lifeguards are rotated from one position to another every 30 minutes, he said.
Molloy described the rescue as a "textbook save."
"We’re going to maintain the safety record we have there," he said Saturday.
Duarte said his instincts as a parent — not his training as a medical assistant — influenced his actions Friday evening.
“I don’t really consider myself a hero,” Duarte said. “I just consider myself a parent that was there at the right time.”