Clark high school students lauded for saving drowning football teammate

Photo by Jenny Goldberg
Johnson High School football teammates, from left, Nick Shapiro, Thomas Bizacko and Nick Serpe are presented with the Mayor’s Certificate of Bravery Award at the Aug. 21 Clark Borough Council meeting for saving the life of their friend and teammate Sebastian Iakouchevitch, right, who nearly drowned in a backyard pool July 5.

CLARK, NJ — Three Arthur L. Johnson High School students who saved the life of a drowning friend in a backyard swimming pool earlier this summer received the Certificate of Bravery Award from Mayor Sal Bonaccorso at the Aug. 21 Clark Borough Council meeting.

Nick Serpe and Thomas Bizacko, both 16, and Nick Shipiro, 17, were lauded for their quick response in pulling their football teammate Sebastian Iakouchevitch, also 16, from the deep end of the pool at Bizacko’s home July 5.
Clark City Clerk Edie Merkel read an email from Michelle Iakouchevitch, Sebastian’s mother, who wrote to the council and mayor saying how her son was submerged for more than four minutes and subsequently had a seizure after being pulled from the water.

Sebastian fainted while swimming four laps underwater, holding his breath. He began to sink to the bottom, and when the boys noticed he was not coming up, they pulled him out.

Doctors at JFK Medical Center in Edison said the teen had medically drowned and diagnosed him with bilateral, or double, pneumonia and pulmonary edema, a condition in which fluid collects in the air sacs of the lungs. He was in the hospital for two days before being released.

“It’s just amazing to me, and such an honor for me to recognize these young men for saving someone’s life and being such great citizens,” Bonaccorso said.

Michelle Iakouchevitch hailed the actions of the three boys who saved her son, “Without their quick thinking and first response, I would be telling a whole different story, and my life would be forever changed,” she told LocalSource in an Aug. 22 interview. “I thought teenagers always get told what they’re doing wrong but hardly ever get rewarded when they do great things, especially at this age.”

A former swim coach, lifeguard and springboard diver, Michelle Iakouchevitch prided herself on teaching Sebastian to swim at a very young age.

“It has humbled us that freak accidents occur,” she said. “And if others are not aware of what drowning truly is, like these boys were, I would be telling a story of losing my son.”

Besides thanking her son’s friends and teammates, Michelle Iakouchevitch read aloud several statistics at the meeting regarding incidental drowning.

According to research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2005 to 2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings annually in the United States. This is an average of about 10 deaths per day. Boating-related incidents account for 332 of these deaths.

More than 50 percent of drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization or transfer for further care.

This is compared with a hospitalization rate of about 6 percent for all unintentional injuries.
Furthermore, these nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage, which may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning, according to the CDC.