Back from brink of death: Rescuers astounded by miracle survival of teenager found floating face-down in the sea off Blackpool

The location where Shelby Burns was saved by the RNLI.
The location where Shelby Burns was saved by the RNLI.

A teenager found floating face-down in the sea off Blackpool had no heart beat for more than 40 minutes – and has lived to tell the tale.

In a remarkable story of survival, Shelby Burns, 19, came back from the brink of death because of the heroic actions of lifeboat volunteers, paramedics, and Victoria Hospital medics.

Shelby Burns talks with Shaun Wright from the RNLI.

Shelby Burns talks with Shaun Wright from the RNLI.

After spending the last three months recovering, she returned to the RNLI station on the Promenade to thank those who pulled her from under the waves.

She said: “If it wasn’t for them, I definitely I wouldn’t be here. They saved my life that day.”

Lifeboatman Shaun Wright, 45, who took part in the mercy mission said: “I have been a lifeboat man for over 20 years, so I have been to quite a few incidents, but in all my 23 years only three times have I seen something like this.

“Shelby was extremely lucky. It’s a rare thing that someone can leave hospital alive after us picking them up face-down from the water.

Shelby Burns thanks Nathan Lee from the RNLI for saving her life

Shelby Burns thanks Nathan Lee from the RNLI for saving her life

“The chances of survival are very slim.”

And heart surgeon David Rose, who was called in to operate at just a few minutes’ notice, said: “I have never had any experience like this one.”

The ordeal started at around 9.20pm on Friday, January 4, when Shelby – stood on a concrete walkway while on a night out with two pals – was washed into the Irish Sea by a wave.

After the unforgiving winter water bashed her against the seawall, the teen was knocked out, sparking a race against time to save her life.

Shelby Burns thanks members of the RNLI for saving her life.

Shelby Burns thanks members of the RNLI for saving her life.

Shaun, who lives in Longway, Marton, said: “It was dark and cold. The sea had a bit of a swell and there were a few waves.

“We went to North Pier and as we got there we could see a life belt that had been thrown down over the pier, and there was a security guard shining a light down on the place he last saw Shelby.

“We spotted her in the searchlight face-down, getting washed against the stanchion of the pier.”

Shelby was hauled aboard the lifeboat, given life-saving CPR, and taken ashore on a Land Rover, before being put into a waiting ambulance – all within 10 minutes – and taken to the Vic.
It was 10pm when she arrived at the hospital in cardiac arrest – with only the CPR keeping her alive.

A&E workers continued to give Shelbyfirst aid as she was given urgent treatment for hypothermia, where the body is at a dangerously cold temperature, and sent to an operating theatre for specialist treatment.

She was put in an induced coma while put on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, which spent 24 hours pumping the blood around her body and warming it back up again.

Her family kept a bedside vigil, fearing the worst, with her mum Helen Adams, 40, saying: “The police came to the house looking for me and her dad. They took us to the hospital and told us that she had been in an accident at sea.

“When we got to the hospital they did say it was really touch-and-go. It was very frightening. It’s nothing you would wish on anybody at all.

“We were prepared to say our goodbyes. The whole family came through from Manchester and never left her side.”

But Shelby, who lives in Livingstone Road, central Blackpool, with her family, astounded doctors by coming round and, after six weeks on a ward, was allowed home.

Life hasn’t been the same since, however, though there are hopes a full recovery will be possible in time.

Shelby now suffers short-term memory loss and numbness in her left side, and had to drop out of Blackpool and The Fylde College, where she was taking a mechanics course.

She said: “I have been told what happened, but I don’t remember what happened. I don’t remember that day at all. The whole thing has gone blank.

“I just remember waking up in the hospital very confused. I think I said I had had a car crash.

“I’m just glad I’m here. I just can’t believe it.

“My life has changed completely. I don’t feel like the same person any more. I forget things that I have said. I forget what I’m going to say when I speak.

“I feel shocked, happy, and at the same time upset.”

Helen added: “Like the nurses at the hospital said, we are taking each day as it comes and hoping for the best.

“She has been very lucky. The lifeboat men said the condition she was in, her age, and the fact that they were so close saved her life. Any other night and they don’t think she would have pulled through. It’s a miracle.

“They have done an amazing job and even Shelby is thinking when she’s fully recovered she wants to go and be a volunteer herself. If it wasn’t for them she wouldn’t be here today. It’s a fantastic job they do.”

Mr Rose, who works at the Vic’s lauded Lancashire Cardiac Centre, said: “The expertise and teamwork shown by all the emergency services quite literally saved a life. It can’t be said strongly enough.

“The quick decision-making of establishing ECMO to start the rewarming process and let the heart recover from the injury was only possible thanks to the collaboration between surgical, anaesthetic and perfusion team.”

Shaun added: “This was our first call of 2019 and at the time it was a horrible call-out. Last year, we had over 100 call-outs but a lot of calls there was nothing at the end.

“We had been launching and searching, but people were found elsewhere. So the crew to see that after such a long period was quite shocking.

“It’s really nice to see you have made a difference and it makes all the volunteering and getting up at unsociable hours worthwhile.

“It can be stressful for everyone involved. I’m a father myself, I have got two kids, and to know that we have made a different and saved (Shelby) is fantastic, and the fact that she came back to say thank you.

“We don’t do it to get a thank you, but it’s nice.”

RNLI volunteer Danny Sharratt, who also helped rescue Shelby, said: “We were thrilled to see Shelby at the lifeboat station. Last time we saw her she was extremely poorly so it’s wonderful to speak to her and see her looking so well. Meeting people we’ve helped makes all of the time and effort we put into our volunteer roles really worthwhile.”

And Paul Little, the station officer for the Coastguard, which helped guide the lifeboat and look after Shelby’s friends, added: “More often than not, in incidents like this it does not have a positive outcome.

“We’re very pleased Shelby has bucked the trend!”

David Rigby, Fylde Sector Manager for North West Ambulance Service said: “It’s great to see that Shelby has made a good recovery which is a real testament to the fantastic way that all the agencies involved came together to help save her life.

“Paramedic Brad Peacock is a volunteer for RNLI and quickly responded to the incident in his own time where he worked alongside his colleagues to help give Shelby the all-important CPR which meant that she was stable enough to receive hospital treatment.”