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Autistic Boy Survives 12 Hour Ocean Ordeal Despite the Odds

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:08 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Rip Currents, Autism, Maritime Accidents, Child Safety

Autistic boy rescued at sea partially because he lacked fear of water.

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IMAGE SOURCE:  Today show/ Marino family appearance/ MSNBC Web site

 

An autistic boy displays no fear or dread of water and that’s what kept him alive in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean for 12 hours, his father says.   

12-year-old Christopher Marino and his father, Walter, were swept out to sea late Saturday near Daytona Beach in shark and jellyfish-infested waters.

"We were both just sucked out,” Marino told Matt Lauer.  “The forces just took us out so quickly, it totally took me by surprise” he said.

The pair had nothing but themselves to hold onto as the rip currents swept them further out to sea. Then darkness fell. Volusia County Beach Patrol and the Coast Guard launched a search-and-rescue effort but couldn’t find the pair.

Appearing on NBC’s Today show, Walter Marino, 46, revealed the secret phrases that kept them alive in the Atlantic. 

Christopher’s favorite movie is the 1995 Disney-Pixar animated movie, “Toy Story”. Walter would make their ordeal into an adventure repeating the phrases of Buzz Lightyear, “To infinity,” Walter would say, “And beyond!” his son would repeat. 

Marino told CNN that his son lacks a fear of death and finds comfort in the water, so by repeating the phrases he was able to keep him calm, even laughing as they were pulled farther from Ponce Inlet, Florida. 

"With many kids with autism, the thing that is so dangerous is that they have no concept of fear or fear of death," Marino said on CNN. "In this case, though, it perhaps saved him -- that and the fact that water is one of his favorite things. Whenever he goes missing or tries to run away, we can always find him near water ... even at the mall if it is just near a fountain."

Walter would lunge for buoys and miss them. Christopher would giggle. It was that spirit that helped ground him, the father said. 

Four hours into the water, jellyfish began to sting the pair and that began to “freak Christopher out,” his father said. 

When currents became stronger, the two drifted apart and that’s when Marino began shouting out the phrases from Toy Story to his son.   Over the course of an hour the voices became faint until his father could no longer hear him.  Marino thought his son was gone, but reminded himself that his daughter needed her father. 

"I just kept thinking about her and how I was not going to leave her without a brother and her father in the same day -- not on my watch," he told CNN. "It was the visual of her that kept me going."

In 81-degree water, the father alternated between the doggie paddle and floating on his back. On the way he counted four shooting stars.  He remembered the Ponce Island lighthouse and headed toward it to use it as a guide to know the distance to shore.  He turned to his spirituality. A religious medal was around his neck.

As morning broke, Marino heard a boat motor and waved frantically.   Soon fishermen pulled him aboard. One of them had seen a flash of light from Marino’s medallion.

When the Coast Guard arrived, they returned to the area when Marino had last seen Christopher eight hours earlier. A short time later the Coast Guard pointed to a rescue helicopter and said, “You see that helicopter? It has your son on it, and he is fine.”  Marino was so excited he began “kissing all the Coast Guard guys.”

"We were both very weak, tired and thirsty," Marino said. "But I reached out and held his hand and could tell from the same sparkle in his eye that he was going to be fine."

The two were taken to a hospital in Daytona Beach where they were treated for dehydration.

“It may be a while before we go back to a beach,” Marino told CNN. But he said his son still loves the water and already has gotten back into a pool. 

A veteran emergency responder called the rescue mission “a miracle”.  #


4 Comments

Posted by The Flirting Shack
Thursday, September 11, 2008 5:57 PM EST

I saw this live on the Today show yesterday and it was really inspiring. This young boy went through such an ordeal and survived it. I put myself in his place and his father's place and I don't know if I could have survived this out there all alone!

This child has really inspired me!

Anonymous User
Posted by Reva
Thursday, September 11, 2008 6:14 PM EST

Truly an inspiring story! I have an autistic grandson who is 3 years old loves the water and am/was afraid he wouldn't know what to do to survive a tragic situation but now I see anything is possible. Such a miracle! Such a brave father/son!

Anonymous User
Posted by Zenaida
Friday, September 12, 2008 12:06 AM EST

This is a Truly Inspiring story. I could not stop crying, just thinking about it and thinking if that was my husband and my Autistic son. I have to say, In the beginning it was happy, then it got really sad and scary. I could not stop Crying, and then there is a Happy Ending. I wont be surprised if they make a movie out of this. If not, some one should. Every time I read this to some one, I still cry. The dad and son is a great inspiration to me and my family!

Anonymous User
Posted by Emily
Sunday, September 14, 2008 11:38 AM EST

Praise the Lord. He watches over his children. It is undeniable that the Lord was watching over these two and keeping them afloat

Comments for this article are closed.

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