Canada 'It broke my heart': Edmonton woman drowns in Maui on wedding anniversary

23:53  04 september  2017
23:53  04 september  2017 Source:   cbc.ca

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An Edmonton woman is dead after drowning while on vacation in Hawaii for her 30th wedding anniversary . Debbie Lee-Victoria L’Hirondelle, 52, and her husband Pat arrived in Maui on Aug. Paramedics said ultimately, they needed his permission to stop CPR. “ It broke my heart when I told

Pat L'Hirondelle held his wife's hand and ran his fingers through her damp blonde hair as he said goodbye one last time.

"It's the worst possible thing that could have happened, losing my Debbie," L'Hirondelle said. "It broke my heart to say goodbye to her."

Debbie Lee-Victoria L'Hirondelle, 52, drowned while on vacation in Hawaii on Aug. 21, a week short of the Edmonton couple's 30th anniversary.

The couple had been on a Hawaiian cruise for their 25th wedding anniversary and couldn't wait to return on a 10-day trip to Maui.

On the third day of vacation, they rented snorkeling gear and spent the morning exploring the waters of Keawakapu Beach.

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They were swimming on the edge of a reef, watching tropical fish and sea turtles when L'Hirondelle, tired from swimming, decided to turn back toward shore.

He told his wife he was heading back and she promised to follow, he said.

"She said, 'Okay, I'm right behind you.' "

Those would be her last words to him.

When L'Hirondelle turned around, she was nowhere to be seen.

"I looked around and I couldn't see her," L'Hirondelle said. "And then I saw her, and I wondered why in the heck is she swimming so close to the rocks?

"And then — oh my God, oh my God — all of a sudden I realized she was floating upside down with no gear on.

"So I go right over those rocks as fast as I could to grab her and I got to her and I flipped her over. I know CPR but you can't do CPR on the water. I couldn't get her out of the water fast enough."

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L'Hirondelle screamed for help, while trying desperately to drag his wife into shore.

Some fellow swimmers pulled Debbie  L'Hirondelle onto a paddleboard and brought her to the beach. A doctor, two nurses and a firefighter — all who happened to be on vacation — began performing CPR.

Paramedics arrived a few minutes later, again attempted to revive her.

'I couldn't bear to say it'

Nearly an hour passed but to Pat L'Hirondelle, it felt like only an instant.

Then he was asked to make the most agonizing decision of his life.

His wife was showing no signs of recovery and the paramedics wanted to halt their efforts to save her.

His legs buckled and a nurse grabbed his hand.

"My heart, my heart," said L'Hirondelle. "I could have sworn I'd only been on the beach for 10 minutes. The drops in time were incredible.

"I couldn't bear to say it."

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The nurse comforting L'Hirondelle told him that his wife would be able to hear his final words. It was time to say goodbye.

"She said to me, 'The best thing you can do is go inside that ambulance and tell her how much you love her, go to tell her about your boys, how much they love her too. Tell her sweet things.' "

He gave the paramedics permission to stop CPR and stepped inside the ambulance. 

"I went in there and I held her hand. I saw our beautiful wedding band and I looked at her and brushed my hands through her hair," Hirondelle said through tears. "It just broke my heart."

L'Hirondelle then had the agonizing task of planning a funeral, and notifying their sons, Jarrod, 25, and Cole, 16, that their mother had died.

His voice breaks at the memory.

He said that without the help of friends, family and complete strangers, he would not have been able to survive his loss.

"I'm still trying to grasp reality here," he said.

"I'm just so fortunate that so many people have been around to help me. I didn't realize there so many beautiful, kind souls there were."

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L'Hirondelle's mother flew in from B.C. to offer him support. While unpacking the couple's suitcases, she found a letter tucked in her daughter-in-law's clothing — an anniversary card.

"Debbie had written some beautiful things," L'Hirondelle said, sobbing as he read the card. 

"To my sweet, wonderful Pat. I am truly the luckiest wife in the world, having such a loving and amazing man for my husband for 30 amazing years.

Pat L'Hirondelle sobs as he re-reads an anniversary card from his wife. © Trevor Wilson/CBC Pat L'Hirondelle sobs as he re-reads an anniversary card from his wife.

"Know that you make me so happy, always and forever."

​"It's beautiful but I want to say it back to her," L'Hirondelle said. "I want to wish her a happy anniversary, too."

'She was a kind soul'

The couple, introduced by a mutual friend, went on their first date in Edmonton nearly 31 years ago.

L'Hirondelle remembers bringing flowers.

His date, a budget analyst with the provincial government, wasn't initially impressed with her suitor, but L'Hirondelle, a baker, was intent on pursuing this "beautiful girl."

A few months later, they started dating in earnest and were married within the year. They exchanged vows in a small ceremony at the Terrace Inn.

L'Hirondelle returned to Edmonton last Tuesday, and has been enduring sleepless nights ever since.

Their home, and his future, feel empty without his wife, he said.

"I woke up this morning and looked over at her side of the bed. I can't sleep alone, so I've taken some pillows and put them on Debbie's side just so there will be something there."

"We would talk about the future. We had grand plans. That's life. You've got to make plans and that's what we were doing.

"She always so giving and understanding of people. She was a kind soul."

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