David L. Austin, M.D.

UCLA Physician Saves
Child’s Life at Beach

A UCLA physician enjoying an afternoon on the beach with family and friends last month helped save the life of an 11-year-old Perris boy who stopped breathing after a tunnel he had been digging in the sand collapsed on top of him.

David L. Austin, M.D., who practices family medicine at a UCLA community office in Manhattan Beach, was playing volleyball with his wife, Julie, and several children, when a youth ran up to report that Dr. Austin’s brother-in-law needed help pulling a boy out of the sand.

Dr. Austin and several other men ran toward the site where a lifeguard and Dr. Austin’s brother-in-law, Mark McDonald, were frantically trying to dig the child out.

The boy, later identified as Evan Navarro, 11, had spent the day digging two deep holes in the sand. He was trying to dig a tunnel to connect the holes when the sand collapsed on top of him. His position made it impossible for him to dig his way out, Dr. Austin says. And to everyone’s horror, “the more they tried to dig him out, the more the sand fell back into the hole.” Finally, the men formed a human chain to extricate Evan, who emerged with blue lips and white skin, unconscious and not breathing. Dr. Austin cleared the sand from his mouth and started administering CPR.

“I didn’t even think about having the lifeguard do it,” says Dr. Austin, who feared the boy may have suffered brain damage from being without oxygen for so long.

After two minutes, Evan started breathing on his own, but vomited twice and appeared unresponsive when lifeguards rushed him to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Austin was thrilled to learn the boy recovered and was only held overnight.

The next day, Evan’s mother, Yvette, called Dr. Austin to thank him for what he did. Articles hailing him as a hero ran in the Daily Breeze and the Contra-Costa Times, his hometown newspaper.

Dr. Austin, who has successfully used CPR three times in his life, is humble about his role, insisting it was a community effort that saved Navarro’s life. “Who would think that just playing in the sand, not even going into the water, could get you into a situation where you could die?,” Dr. Austin says. “It just reminds you that life is so precious and fragile at the same time.”