I can’t begin to describe how emotional these last few days have been for Keoki and me. Diego Santos and I were taking a rest day and decided to shoot while Keoki went surfing. Suddenly we noticed a broken board and a couple of guys grouping together, but no one was waving for help. I zoomed in on Keoki’s camera and thought a fight was ensuing until I realized someone was unconscious and needed help. I immediately noticed the broken board was mine and it was Keoki who needed help. Diego and I ran down the beach as quickly as we could, told someone to call 911 and to find a longboard to meet us out there so we use it as a backboard. Then we swam out to help bring him into shore.
When I first got to Keoki, we were a couple of hundred feet from shore. He was unconscious, foaming at the mouth and choking on water. I noticed everyone helping was so worried about getting him to the beach quickly that no one was protecting his airway. I immediately took control of his head to keep his spine and back aligned. He was gagging on water so I turned him to his side to let him throw it up without rebreathing it in.
From here on, every time we had to go under a wave I pinched his nose and covered his mouth to make sure he didn’t get any more water in his lungs than he already had. Once we got to the edge of the reef where we could stand, someone brought a surfboard big enough that we could it as a backboard. Now we had at least 6 people helping carry him over the reef. By this time he had been unconscious for at least 10-15 minutes.
Suddenly he opened his eyes looked at me and began panicking. Within seconds, though, he blacked out again. Over the next few minutes, he would do this three more times. When we got him to the beach, we put him on a table in the shade and he slowly regained consciousness on his own. He immediately began asking where he was and what was going on. We did our best to explain the situation and keep him calm. Soon after, an Australian chiropractor named Luke Gales showed up and helped with checking his vitals.
In the beginning, Keoki could not move or feel his legs but thankfully, after 30 minutes, he regained minimal feeling in his feet and could begin to wiggle his toes. At this point, I knew he was stable and in good hands so I had Diego take control of keeping his head in line. I ran to the hotel to put away Keoki’s camera equipment, grab our passports, phones, one pair of spare clothes and money in case we had to be air-lifted out. When I returned Keoki was alert and oriented but still with minimal movement and feeling in his legs.
It took more than an hour for the ambulance to show up, and when they did the drivers didn’t even know how to use the neck brace. They were literally taxi drivers driving an ambulance. In that moment I realized we had to be in control from here on out. I used to be an EMT then worked for The City and County of Honolulu Lifeguards for almost 5 years, so I was confident we could take care of him better than the ambulance/taxi drivers. Luckily, we also had Luke the chiropractor and a Brazilian doctor, Carlos, a gynecologist who accompanied us to the nearest clinic. The clinic we arrived at was basically a hotel with hospital beds and barely any medical equipment or staff. Mostly nuns who were praying for him. Once Keoki was as comfortable as possible, I had to go back to the hotel to pack all of our bags and then head right back to the clinic to stay with him.
The next morning Keoki said he could feel bubbles in his lungs all night from the water he aspirated. From here I demanded we head to another clinic closer to the airport to spend the night and be air-lifted to Malaysia then drive to Singapore the next morning. Now thankfully we are in Singapore and after getting his MRI results back, we got some incredible news. The doctors say with extensive rehab he will eventually make a full recovery.

From this experience, we are hoping to create some awareness as to how important basic life-saving skills are. No matter how big or small the waves are, it is important that we all look out for each other. Without everyone working together, Keoki might not have been as lucky as he was.
I cannot begin to explain how thankful I am to everyone who helped out and I hope this story will open people’s eyes to the importance of looking out for each other as well as having travel insurance. His emergency airlift alone was $27,000 and the hospital bill is already at $51,000. Not to mention the extensive rehab he is going to need. Insurance is covering some of these expenses but not all. I hope whoever is reading this can learn something from our experience and use it to protect yourself as well as maybe save the life of a friend one day.