Dianne Stewart, who lives and works in London, told the Irish Examiner that she worked as a lifeguard in a beach and pool setting in Canada when she was a teen.
“I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t done something, knowing that I had that training,” she said.
Ms Stewart was speaking for the first time about her and her brother’s role in the brave rescue in Cork city centre last Thursday.
Ms Stewart was in Cork with her father, Dennis Burke, and his wife, to meet relatives he had traced during ancestral research.
She was walking through the city with her brother, Dave, to meet those relatives in Isaacs restaurant on MacCurtain St just before 7.30pm last Thursday, when they saw a commotion near St Patrick’s Quay.
She said she could see a man trying to throw a ring-buoy to what at first glance looked like a dog in the river. But as they got closer, it was clear that it was a man, and he was in distress.
It is understood that he is one of a number of homeless people who have pitched tents on the wharf, inside the railings, along St Patrick’s Quay.
Ms Stewart said she and her brother, who also has lifeguard training, ran to the quayside, climbed over the railings, and used a ladder to climb down to the water.
She entered the water and swam about eight feet out to where the man was now submerged, and was no longer moving. She brought him to the surface, turned him on to his back, and swam him back to the quayside with the help of the lifebuoy, where Dave, standing knee deep in water, held him as she applied artificial respiration — the kiss of life.
“After a few breaths, the man started breathing but remained unconscious,” she said.
They had seen people calling for help and could hear sirens in the distance and knew help was on the way but they couldn’t get the man’s arms through the lifebuoy so they continued to hold him up in the water.
A uniformed garda climbed down the ladder and entered the water, taking over from Dave.
Minutes later, units of Cork City Fire Brigade arrived and recovered the casualty to the quayside where he went into cardiac arrest, but was resuscitated.
Ms Stewart and her brother were taken to Mercy University Hospital for a check-up before joining their relatives in Isaacs.