Orange County

'Help, I can't breathe!' What they did next saved a girl's life in Chapel Hill

Savannah Jastram and Norman Picard have lived in Chapel Hill since 2015.
Savannah Jastram and Norman Picard have lived in Chapel Hill since 2015. Town of Chapel Hill

Two young Chapel Hill residents likely saved a life last weekend by being aware of their surroundings, noticing something wasn’t right, and jumping into action.

Savannah Jastram and Norman Picard have lived in Chapel Hill since 2015. Picard is the night manager at the Root Cellar, on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Jastram is studying history at UNC-Chapel Hill and works part time at the Root Cellar.

Picard had closed up early and arrived home at the University Garden Apartments on Pritchard Avenue Extension around 9:15 p.m. Saturday when he heard splashing in the pool nearby. It was dark, and the pool wasn’t yet open for the season.

Then he heard, ‘Help, I can’t breathe!”

He looked over and noticed two young girls in the pool. One was sitting on the edge with her feet dangling in the water; the other was bobbing in the pool on the life preserver.

“The girl on the edge looked so calm, I didn’t think I needed to do anything,” Picard said. “I thought to myself, they’re probably just playing. I don’t want to overstep.”

Picard entered his apartment and went over to the window to check again. Jastram was in their home office and thought it was strange when he didn’t come back to say hello like he regularly does.

“I came out into the kitchen and asked what he was looking at through the window,” Jastram said.

“At that time, I saw the girl in the pool go under,” Picard said. “I didn’t see her come up, and I said, ‘I think she’s drowning.’”

Both of them immediately ran outside as the girl sitting on the edge of the pool got up, pulled the life preserver back and tossed it into the water.

“I yelled, ‘Are you playing? What’s going on?’” Jastram said. “We kept thinking that we didn’t want to get involved if everything was okay. We didn’t want them to think we were yelling at them or trying get them in trouble. We just wanted to make sure they were safe.”

The girl hadn’t moved from her spot at the bottom of the pool. Jastram and Picard thought she must have been there for at least three minutes. They immediately jumped the fence. Picard jumped into the pool, and Jastram dialed 911.

Picard pulled the girl out of the pool, and Jastram handed the phone back to Picard.

“They don’t tell you that the face will be covered in mucus when you’re learning CPR and mouth-to mouth,” Jastram said. She wiped off the girls mouth, began with two or three chest compressions, and then gave a few breaths via mouth-to-mouth. She continued chest compressions, and after a short time the girl coughed and began breathing on her own.

“I immediately rolled her on her side,” Jastram said. “I asked her, ‘Can you hear me? If you can hear me, squeeze my hand.’ Nothing. Clearly she was in shock, but I could see that her breathing came back strong.”

Not long after, the Chapel Hill Police and Fire departments arrived followed by Orange County Emergency Services. The young girl was taken to UNC Hospitals where she was treated and made a full recovery.

Both Picard and Jastram were met by the Fire Chief Matthew Sullivan and Assistant Chief of Police Celisa Lehew at the Root Cellar on Wednesday, May 23.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that you saved that little girl’s life,” Sullivan said. “It’s incredible what you all did to take the initiative.”

Picard and Jastram were each given challenge coins from both departments, tokens that are usually reserved for sworn public safety officials.

“You were true stewards of our community,” Lehew said. “We ask our community members to do what they can, and you went above and beyond the call. If you weren’t there, we may have had to respond to a very different call.”

Jastram and Picard both want to become history teachers and are working together to put themselves through school at UNC.

As pools are opening and people begin celebrating the warmer months, town officials say this serves as an important reminder about pool safety as well as the importance of knowing what to do in a crisis.

Children should not be at a pool without adult supervision.

No one, including adults, should swim alone.

And, if you’re swimming somewhere that doesn’t have a phone nearby, make sure you have a cell phone with plenty of charge in case you need to dial 911.

The best thing you can do in a crisis is to remain calm. Dial 911, and the dispatchers will walk you through what you need to do.

Statistics show that basic CPR for adults, simply performing uninterrupted chest compressions, gives victims a higher chance of survival by keeping blood flowing to the critical organs. That will give first responders time to arrive, evaluate the patient, and perform additional lifesaving measures when necessary.

The Town of Chapel Hill offers swimming lessons and coordinates with the South Orange Rescue Squad for CPR training courses. You can find more details on these offerings at

Ran Northam is the community safety communications specialist for the town of Chapel Hill.