Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/19/07
STAFFORD â€” In the back of her mind, Hannah Wasacz, 6, probably sensed that her 48-pound frame could not possibly pull ashore the 200-pound adult on the verge of drowning in the rocky surf.
But she tried anyway. It was her dad after all.
And when that didn’t work, she stayed with him, holding his head above the waves, while calling to the beach for help.
“She said, “Daddy, don’t worry, I’ll help you’,” the father, Sean Wasacz, of Ocean Acres, recalled Friday after a physical therapy session.
He expects to fully recover by September, almost a year after he dived into the ocean to cool off and hit a sandbar head-on, snapping a vertebra in his neck and leaving him face down, paralyzed in the water.
Sean Wasacz considers his daughter a hero who saved his life. Others agree. On Tuesday, Hannah will receive the Medal of Honor from the Girl Scouts national office as well as Stafford’s own Hero Award.
Asked how she knew her father was in trouble, the first-grader from Ocean Acres Elementary said, “He didn’t sound like he was calling for fake help. His voice was different.”
Oct. 9 was the last day of an annual weekend vacation to Bethany Beach, Del., for the Wasaczs and some friends. It was 75 degrees out, and Sean decided to break from the Frisbee game for a swim.
The only explanation the Elizabeth firefighter can think of for why a sandbar had formed under the waves was the strong storms two days before.
“They really kicked up the surf,” he said.
Upon hitting the wall of sand he couldn’t move. Soon a wave rolled him onto his back allowing him to yell for help. But all he saw was his wife, Jennifer, and his friends up on the beach. Some were laughing, thinking he was joking.
Then Hannah, one of Sean’s four young children who was playing closer to the surf, appeared next to him in the three feet of water. She was crying, trying to pull him to shore.
“He was too heavy, I couldn’t get him out,” she said.
She called for the others. Some of the men came down to the water. One called 911, which sent a helicopter. Sean was flown to Christiana Hospital’s trauma center where he underwent surgery for a shattered C5 vertebra, inches below where the late actor Christopher Reeve was injured and became paralyzed. Sean’s spinal cord, however, was not damaged enough for any permanent effects. After five days, he was taken to a rehab clinic for more than two weeks.
He now goes to the Ocean Club in Eagleswood three times a week for physical therapy.
“Your extraordinary actions not only saved lives, but serve as a shining example for all Girl Scouts everywhere,” read a letter from Girl Scouts of the USA chief executive officer, Kathy Cloninger.
The Medal of Honor is the second-highest life-saving award a Girl Scout can receive.
Hannah’s troop leader, Stephanie Chirichillo, said, “At such a young age she held her head up and had the forethought do what needed to be done.”
Hannah wasn’t finished, however. When her father returned to Ocean Acres from the rehab clinic, his welcome-home present was dozens of signs posted around the house and swimming pool. They read, “No diving.”