Michael McSweeney, 13, and his brother Patrick, 12, visit their grandparents in Southold every summer — long sunny trips spent on the water, filled with swimming, clamming and fishing.
Joe Brantuk, their grandfather and a retired firefighter from Garden City Park, said a little more than half of his 22 grandchildren are usually running around his property at any given moment during the summer months.
The McSweeney boys are licensed boaters, and on Sept. 3, the pair took their grandfather’s inflatable dinghy for what should have been a peaceful ride in Richmond Creek. But as they rounded a curve into Hog Neck Bay, the boys spotted a woman curled up on her side in the sand.
“She was clearly in distress, she was shaking and falling down onto her knees. We immediately knew something was up,” Patrick said.
The boys pulled over to check on her — “Ma’am, are you okay?” Michael asked — but she was unresponsive. Unsure of what to do, they called their mother, who was in Riverhead. Then they called their grandfather.
“I said okay, don’t move her. I’ll be there in five minutes,” Mr. Brantuk said. They would find out later that the woman they’d discovered — Ellen Paterno, 71 — had suffered a stroke.
Mr. Brantuk rushed to the beach down South Harbor Road, where the boys picked him up in the dinghy.
“I checked her vitals and she was breathing. She said, ‘No, no, I need help. I need my medicines.’ I said, ‘I don’t have any medicines, but I’m going to get you help immediately,’ ” he said.
Mr. Brantuk called 911. Within 15 minutes of the McSweeneys’ call to their grandfather, a police officer and an EMT were trekking down the beach to reach Ms. Paterno. They lifted her onto Mr. Brantuk’s boat and Patrick drove them to the Indian Neck boat ramp, where she was taken via ambulance to Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital.
“Those kids that found her, they’re heroes,” said her son, Michael Paterno. “She would have died right there if they hadn’t found her … We wouldn’t have even found her for days.”
As of Sept. 10, Ms. Paterno was hospitalized at Stony Brook University Hospital, where she’s in a coma. Mr. Paterno said she’s an avid swimmer, who swims a mile a day from May through October.
“She must have felt the stroke coming on, but thought it was something else … [and] managed to get to the shore,” he said.
Mr. Brantuk said Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley called his daughter to ask for the McSweeneys’ address in Massachusetts, to send a letter of commendation.
“As the police officer put it, if she would have been there for another 10 minutes, she probably would have passed away,” Patrick said.
“It’s one of those things, you see something you say something,” Michael added. “Our father is a cop, so he’s always taught us that.”
Mr. Brantuk, who was a volunteer firefighter for 54 years, said he’s seen a lot but the experience was still “pretty traumatic.” The boys don’t seem worse for wear, though. They were back in the boat the next day.