OCEANSIDE, Calif. – A week before his family vacationed in Maui last summer, 13-year-old Myles Harris took a Boy Scout class in water safety and lifesaving techniques. His mom, Karmen, volunteered as his rescuee.
Neither knew how critical that class would become until July 5, when Karmen, a novice and nervous swimmer, nearly drowned during a group snorkeling trip. Myles saved her life.
At a recent Buena Creek District Roundtable meeting in Vista, district officials surprised Myles, now 14, with a Medal of Merit. The national honor recognizes meritorious service above and beyond that normally expected of a member of the Boy Scouts of America.
District Chair Scott Packard said it’s extremely rare for the medal to be awarded to a scout as young as Myles. At the ceremony, Packard mused on the timing of the lifesaving class and Karmen’s rescue.
“I believe there are no coincidences in life,” he said, choking back tears. “Perhaps there was some divine intervention at work.”
Myles, a freshman at Mission Vista High School in Oceanside, was shocked and a bit embarrassed by the honor. But he said he was grateful he had the training and was in the right place at the right time to save his mom.
“It was a scary experience,” he recalled. “I think it’s really cool that I took that class. You never know how you’re going to react in a situation like that. I’m glad I was prepared and that everything turned out.”
Myles’ father, Marc Harris, 47, said he’s very proud of his son.
“When it was all happening, I was in a state of denial,” said Harris, a forensic architect with Diehl Group Architects in Encinitas, Calif. “There were all these things racing through my head. But when it was all over, I hugged him and told him, ‘Thank you for saving my wife.’ ”
Karmen Harris, 46, grew up in Los Angeles where she never learned to swim other than a few lessons because she “wasn’t a water person.” But because her son grew up near the beach in Oceanside, she insisted he take swimming lessons from a young age.
During their vacation this past summer, the family took a boat excursion to Molokini Crater, a semi-submerged volcano off the coast of Maui. Karmen hadn’t planned to go into the water with her husband and son that day, but the sea was so clear and beautiful she changed her mind.
Supporting herself on a plastic foam pool noodle, she joined the snorkeling party in the water and very quickly ran into trouble. A series of three waves caused water to pour down the spout of her snorkel and she didn’t have the strength to blow the water out. Eventually, the lack of oxygen caused her to black out.
Myles said he was looking around in the water and noticed a person floating motionless, facedown in the water. It wasn’t until he swam up to the body that he realized it was his mother. He flipped her over, discovered she was unconscious and quickly called for help before he began pulling her back to the boat.
By the time Karmen was pulled aboard, she was in cardiac arrest. The crew started cardiopulmonary resuscitation and called the Coast Guard. A defibrillator was used to restart her heart and she spent the next 24 hours recovering in the hospital.
At the awards ceremony, Packard asked Karmen to pin the medal on Myles’ chest. “I’m really proud of my son,” she said. “I thank him, but I also thank the scouting program for not only saving my life, but for also saving my son.”