Beaufort native receives national award for helping save drowning teen

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comMarch 10, 2012 

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Robbie Sofaly and the other staff members of a Columbia after-school program to help at-risk kids knew the teenager at the bottom of the pool to be something of a jokester.

About a minute ticked by before it became clear to Sofaly and others standing by the pool that the 15-year-old boy wasn't horsing around.

He was drowning.

"The program's lifeguard pulled him from the pool and he was completely lifeless, bloated and his face and lips were blue," said Sofaly, who grew up in the Shell Point area and is the son of retired Beaufort Gazette photographer Bob Sofaly. "It was like everything was happening in slow-motion."

The teen survived and now, about seven months later, Sofaly and four other University of South Carolina students are being honored by the American Red Cross for using their advanced CPR training to save his life.

Sofaly, 25, a graduate student at USC, and the other students are slated to receive the American Red Cross' certificate of merit, an award given to those who use their Red Cross training to sustain or save a life, according to an agency spokeswoman.

The certificate of merit is the highest award given by the Red Cross, and is signed by President Barack Obama, the honorary chairman of the Red Cross.

Only about 90 certificates are presented each year from among several hundred submissions nationwide, according to the Red Cross. A 36-year-old Bluffton man received the certificate last month for using an automated external defibrillator to revive a man who collapsed at Berkeley Hall.

A presentation ceremony for Sofaly and the other students is being planned for Columbia, but no date has been set, the spokeswoman said.

Sofaly said being recommended for the honor by the program's staff members and the teenager himself was humbling, but he doesn't think they did anything heroic.

"We just did our jobs," Sofaly said. "Everyone just fell back on our training. It was instinctual. It is satisfying to know that we had an impact on this kid's life. That's pretty cool."

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