Little Egg Harbor Senior Survives Traumatic Event With Help From a Neighbor

Nov 08, 2017

Little Egg Harbor resident Shirley Schwoyer wanted to make sure that her neighbor, Victor Apario, was thanked in public for his heroism in saving her 84-year-old husband from drowning in their lagoon on October 18. Her husband, Neil, is home now after recuperating from the ordeal that started when he went to check on work being done on their house.

On that day, Shirley and Neil had gone to one of his doctors’ appointments in Linwood – Neil has many medical challenges, including a pacemaker, skin cancer, hip replacements and hearing loss and has only one lung after surgery for lung cancer five years ago. This was an appointment with his oncologist. When they returned in the afternoon, her husband went to check on work being done on their deck, a repair to a “substandard repair” done after Superstorm Sandy by a different contractor. Shirley helped him for a while until she excused herself to get dinner started around 4:30 p.m.

She didn’t think anything was amiss until she heard police cars and ambulances pull up outside the house. As she learned later, Neil decided to do a bit of work on the deck and went out on the floating dock where the contractor kept his equipment. He slipped and fell into the water.

“Our neighbor said he heard someone say, ‘Help,’ and then a few minutes later heard the voice say ‘Help’ again, so he came out of his rec room and saw my husband in the water. He said he knew if he went in his car and drove around to our house, it would be too late, so he jumped into the lagoon and swam over to my husband,” said Shirley Schwoyer.

“Neil had no strength left, but somehow our neighbor was able to get a rope to him to hang onto until he was able to bring the (boat) ladder around to him. His clothes were stuck to barnacles under the dock, but he finally got him freed.”

Shirley said she had no idea this drama was happening right under her nose until a police officer came to the house and told her. “I saw an EMT (Donna Bird from Great Bay Regional EMS) in the water with him, and she was trying to resuscitate him or something. Well, I was so hysterical that the officer made me go back inside.”

The decision was made to airlift Neil to the AtlantiCare medical trauma unit in Atlantic City, where he recovered and was then sent to the Seacrest Village rehabilitation facility in Little Egg Harbor for a week.

“With all that he’s been through, he’s a real fighter,” said Shirley. “We’ve been married 61 years, and to know my husband is to love him, which I do.

“He told me, ‘Shirley, I thought this was the end of me and I just prayed. I wasn’t so concerned about myself, but I thought of you.’

“I just wanted to think of a way to thank our neighbor and the emergency responders, and my niece suggested I call the local newspaper. And I'll tell you another thing, the EMT called me from her vacation in Florida to ask how my husband was, and the people in the trauma center told me the police officers also called them to ask about my husband and how unusual that was. ” 

— Pat Johnson 


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