Mariposa & Yosemite

Jeff Jardine: Son saves Dad, who fainted in icy swim at Yosemite

Jeff Dobbek Jr. acted much older than his 11 years last week, and it wasn't simply because he'll turn 12 next Tuesday.

The Gilroy seventh-grader and his dad, Jeff Dobbek Sr., hiked up beyond Yosemite's Vernal Falls on July 20.

While mom Ingrid and daughter Christina went for a bicycle ride on the valley floor, dad and son decided to swim across the darned-cold Emerald Pool.

Jeff Jr. beat pop to the other side through the 50-degree snowmelt.

"My dad made it to the very edge, but he couldn't get up on the slippery rock," Jeff Jr. said. "He just fainted."

Jeff Sr., 53, slipped beneath the surface, his eyes still open. His son jumped back in, grabbed his dad and kept their heads above the water.

"I started holding him up and yelling for help," Jeff Jr. said.

Pretty amazing, considering dad stands 6 foot 5 inches and weighs 200 pounds. Jeff Jr. is 5 foot 4 inches and weighs 112 pounds.

How'd he do it? He kicked and kicked to keep them both at the surface. Turns out two other swimmers, who happened to be certified lifeguards, and a third, who is a paramedic, responded to the son's pleas for help and pulled Jeff Sr. out of the water.

"They did CPR," Jeff Jr. said. "They pumped once and he woke up."

Fortunately, the area has some cell phone reception and someone called 911. When Jeff Sr. didn't recover quickly, park paramedics decided to send him to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto.

He's a proud papa, alive in no small part because of his son's quick response.

"I think he just used his head," dad said.

Likewise, mom Ingrid marveled at her son's actions.

"We were so proud he managed to keep such a cool head," she said. "When they were loading his dad into the helicopter, he was trying so hard to be brave and not to cry. He held up so well, but by the time it was over I think he was ready to collapse."

Turns out Jeff Jr. did more than save his dad from drowning. The episode uncovered a heart blockage.

Jeff Sr., an electrical engineer for Hitachi Global Storage Technologies in San Jose, needed an angioplasty procedure and had a stent implanted.

The ice-cold water had constricted the blocked vein and caused him to pass out, he said.

"Unless you're right at that breaking point, you never know," Jeff Sr. said.

He was released Friday and returned home to Gilroy.