Alpharetta camp counselor saves teen's life

Buzzed-cut and tan, lean and hanging with the bros, Chris Edmiston is what some, at first glance, might call a frat guy.

Never, in his 21 years, did he ever believe that he’d ever become what he calls “that guy.”

That guy others hail as the hero. The one who swoops in to help and does what it takes to save a life.

That guy.

"To hear something like that blows my mind," said Edmiston, a summer camp counselor for the city of Alpharetta. "You don't ever think you are going to be that guy."

When classes resume at Kennesaw State University on Monday, Edmiston will have a harrowing summer camp experience to share with the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi. And this will be no tall tale.

Edmiston pulled a lifeless young teen from the shallow floor of a city pool and revived her.

Because of his swift action, summer camper Anna Cuviello, a special needs student at the Cottage School of Roswell, will soon begin ninth grade. She's thankful to be alive, yet uneasy. Not about her near-death experience, but about freshman year.

"I'm kind of nervous," she said. "I always wanted to try out to be a cheerleader."

Their paths crossed at Camp Happy Heart, a respite for students with disabilities where children with autism and hearing impairments enjoy summer fun.

Cuviello, who has a seizure disorder and Asperger’s syndrome, is a veteran camper who was ready to experience everything her last year there could offer. The camp is open only to students ages 7 to 15.

“I have been going to camp since I was 10 years old,” she said. “Just going to the pool and doing arts and crafts ... is fun.”

Edmiston, a history education major, took on the summer job to explore teaching high school. He likes the challenge of working with teens, particularly those who have special needs.

The college senior joined a team of counselors responsible for about 60 special needs students. The job required them to be caring, patient and certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They trained together in May.

“Our camp counselors watch our kids closely,” said Farrell Garth, program coordinator for the city's parks and recreation department.

As the end of the sweltering summer season approached, Edmiston's new skills would be tested.

It was swim day in late July, and Cuviello wore blue and white. She had a date with a diving board. Her mother, Carol Cuviello, who was going on a day trip with a high school friend, felt secure that her daughter was in good hands. After all, the teen is an experienced competition swimmer with a collection of medals.

"Camp Happy Heart is the most wonderful, loving environment," Carol Cuviello said. "I can't say enough about the camp counselors."

That day, Anna worked on her front flip. Then, the group changed locations.

"I remember walking back to the shallow end and I think going back into the pool," Anna Cuviello said.

Suddenly, the 15-year-old froze. She had a seizure and sank to the bottom of the pool in 4 feet of water. Cuviello has a history of seizures. She had brain surgery twice over the years, hoping to alleviate them. But recently, they had come back more randomly than ever.

Edmiston was the first to notice Anna in distress. “She was in a fetal position with her arm up as if she was about to swim. When I pulled her up from the water, she was purple.”
He quickly scooped Cuviello into his arms and sat her on the side of the pool. Camp director Megan McGuire made sure help was on the way.
“I checked the situation, put her on her side to see if anything would come out. Her heartbeat was going very slowly. I gave her two rescue breaths, and she finally threw up some water -- and her lunch,” Edmiston said. “I didn’t leave Anna’s side until the paramedics came.”

Then he broke down. “The paramedics said that she was almost gone -- any longer and she would have been dead.”

Next month, Garth said, Edmiston will be honored for his heroism. "The city is so grateful," she said.
Edmiston insists on sharing the spotlight with the counselors who stood by him as he revived Anna and as the teen recovered in the hospital. Her family started an Internet prayer chain.

Doctors thought Cuviello might be hospitalized for several days because of the chemicals in the water she had swallowed, but the teen was rosy-cheeked and eating breakfast the next day. She was discharged from ICU in less than 24 hours, said Carol Cuviello, thankful that Edmiston was there for her child. "She didn't want to miss a day of camp."