When John Clark saw a 12-year-old boy struggling in the breakers at Rockaway Beach, Ore., he didn't think twice about swimming out to help him. Just one month earlier, the Vancouver teen started lifeguarding at the Firstenburg and Marshall community center pools. Nothing in his training told him he was expected to perform rescues off duty.
Nothing told him his efforts would cost him $2,600 either.
Clark, 17, was flying kites on the beach just north of Tillamook, Ore., with his girlfriend and nephew, when he heard a boy screaming for help. Someone on shore pointed toward the boy, Robert, who was bobbing in the waves 50 to 100 yards from shore.
Clark threw off his shirt and swam out to him. Robert was panicking and clinging to Clark, so the two started to sink.
"One thing I was taught is, if the victim is panicking and clings onto you, then you have to push them away," Clark said. "I just told him, 'My name is John. I'm a lifeguard.' I just kept talking to him."
Robert was too tired to swim anymore. Clark held onto him to keep him afloat. The waves pushed them out farther, past the breakers and into the swells.
"Every time a wave came, I'd tell Robert, 'Ready? Hold your breath,'" Clark said. "It felt like the waves were trying to rip him out of my arms."
After about 15 minutes of treading water, he saw rescue crews getting ready on shore. They went out in a Jet Ski, but the waves flipped it over.
Clark and Robert held on to the rescuers and were pulled to shore.
Medics asked Clark some questions and started filling out paperwork. He had swallowed a lot of salt water and had a migraine. Clark said he never signed anything or looked at the paperwork, but climbed into the back of the ambulance with Robert.
"I thought getting into the ambulance was standard procedure," Clark said. "I figured I was just going along for the ride. I was fine by that point."
Robert, however, was shivering and shaking -- symptoms of hypothermia, Clark said.
Once they arrived at Tillamook County General Hospital, hospital crews asked Clark if they could do X-rays on his lungs, since he swallowed so much saltwater. Clark declined, dried off with some towels and drank some water. Then his mom, Marty Clark, picked him up and drove him home.
A few weeks later, the Clark family got the hospital bill: About $450 for the emergency room, $230 for the doctor's fee and just over $1,900 for the ambulance. The total was nearly $2,600.
"I was kind of in shock," Clark said. "They were all just doing their job, so I understand."
Clark's father, Dan Clark, was taken aback by the bill, but was glad his son's 12 years of Scout training kicked in and he helped someone in need.
"I was very proud of him and what he did," he said.
After word got out about Clark's bravery and his substantial medical bill, the family got offers from people wanting to help cover the costs.
"I'm still flabbergasted by all the people who have wanted to help," Dan said.
Anyone interested in donating to Clark's medical bills can make a donation either to his Fundrazr campaignor directly to his bank account at any Chase location. His account is under the name John Cody Clark and ends in 15.
Dan Clark says if the family gets more than they need to cover John's medical bills, they will donate the remaining money to Robert's medical expenses.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service