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Community mourns Lingan woman who died saving children


LINGAN — A Lingan woman who died while saving children caught in a riptide in the ocean off Dunvegan, Sunday, is being hailed a true hero.

Michelle Curtis, 45, died after what began as a fun-filled weekend with 30 friends and family at MacLeod's Beach Campsite near Inverness, turned into a nightmare.

"She is a hero," said Michelle's sister, Kendra Baldwin of New Waterford.

"Michelle was the first one in the water and she was the first one to reach the kids. She saved them, she got them to shore."

Baldwin said she got to the campground Friday morning with her husband, Kenny, son Drew, 12, and two of Drew's friends, as well as Michelle and her children, Harrison, 9, and Sophie, 12.

On Sunday, they went to the horse races and at about 4 p.m. returned to the campground before heading to the nearby beach. There were about 15 children who immediately ran into the water with their boogie boards, but only up to their knees.

"Within seconds they were right out to sea, the riptide came in and just took them right out," Baldwin said.

She described the scene as "horrible" with the kids waving their arms and hollering for help.

"My sister was the first one in the water and the first to reach the kids," she added, her voice breaking with emotion.

She said seven of the children were at least 200 feet from shore.

"The other kids were at about the halfway mark — the tide was so strong — we were struggling to get them back."

Baldwin's son was in the water along with his two friends.

"He was in the middle up to his waist. The waves were crashing over him, his feet were getting dug in the sand — he was hollering for help."

She said Michelle reached her son Harrison and got him on his way back in, then swam back out to help someone else. Baldwin said the adults were all working to help the children.

"It wasn't until she was on her way back in that Michelle started struggling. I swam with her, kept telling her to keep calm, to breath and to keep kicking her feet."

In the meantime two men entered the water with a "pool noodle" flotation device and wrapped it around Michelle.

She collapsed on shore. A doctor and two nurses — one nurse a friend of the group — began to perform CPR. EHS arrived along with two fire trucks.

"I kept telling her she was going to make it.  I told her she was a hero, she saved the kids."

Fighting back tears, Baldwin said her sister passed away on the beach.

"That was her in her everyday life, she was always taking care of everyone — her friends, her family, her co-workers — she loved being around people. She loved life."

Baldwin said many others that day were part of the rescue effort, including Chris McKinnon of River Ryan.

"Chris saved a lot of lives that day. He stayed calm and kept everyone calm."

Baldwin said after rescuing the children at least five other adults had distress issues, including one man who was transported to hospital and later released.

Michelle's husband, Karl was not with the group. He had stayed home to look after the family's new puppy. After learning of the tragedy, he rushed to the scene and took his children home.

Baldwin's husband, Kenny, said everyone else stayed at the campground, it was too late to be hauling trailers.

"Everyone was still in shock."

Michelle’s parents, Diane and Glenn White of New Waterford, were at the campground, but had left earlier in the day and were near Baddeck when they heard the news.

Diane White said no family should ever have to deal with such a loss.

"For Glenn and I, our hearts are broken," said White, through tears. "There is nothing worse than losing your child. I don't know how we can go on without our rock. Michelle was our go-to girl. She loved her children. She died as she worked, saving people."

Darren O'Quinn, who co-owns the Community Press newspaper with Michelle's husband, was at the campground, but not at the water at the time of the incident.

He said Michelle was one of the nicest people a person could ever meet.

"My wife and Michelle have been best friends since they were 10 years old. My little fellow said to me, 'I've never seen you cry before.'  I just can't stop.

"She was that person who'd do anything for anyone — her own kids, anyone's kids."

Connie Gregory, director of provincial programs for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, including palliative care, said Michelle Curtis was the clinical nurse lead for palliative care and officially worked in palliative care and oncology for 20 years, whom she described as a tremendous patient and family advocate.

"She had a very vibrant, large personality, big smile, was very friendly and outgoing with an incredible passion for palliative care."

Gregory said Michelle was also at the forefront of every fundraiser for the Hospice Palliative Care Society of Cape Breton.

"We loved her for her incurable passion, incredible energy and incredible commitment."

Dr. Anne Frances D'Intino, a palliative care physician, worked with Michelle for about 17 years.

"She had a kind of personality that just made the work days full. She lived life to the fullest."

She said Michelle was instrumental in improving palliative care services.

"That was her passion. Her legacy will be felt for a long time in our community."

smontgomery@cbpost.com

Michelle Curtis, 45, died after what began as a fun-filled weekend with 30 friends and family at MacLeod's Beach Campsite near Inverness, turned into a nightmare.

"She is a hero," said Michelle's sister, Kendra Baldwin of New Waterford.

"Michelle was the first one in the water and she was the first one to reach the kids. She saved them, she got them to shore."

Baldwin said she got to the campground Friday morning with her husband, Kenny, son Drew, 12, and two of Drew's friends, as well as Michelle and her children, Harrison, 9, and Sophie, 12.

On Sunday, they went to the horse races and at about 4 p.m. returned to the campground before heading to the nearby beach. There were about 15 children who immediately ran into the water with their boogie boards, but only up to their knees.

"Within seconds they were right out to sea, the riptide came in and just took them right out," Baldwin said.

She described the scene as "horrible" with the kids waving their arms and hollering for help.

"My sister was the first one in the water and the first to reach the kids," she added, her voice breaking with emotion.

She said seven of the children were at least 200 feet from shore.

"The other kids were at about the halfway mark — the tide was so strong — we were struggling to get them back."

Baldwin's son was in the water along with his two friends.

"He was in the middle up to his waist. The waves were crashing over him, his feet were getting dug in the sand — he was hollering for help."

She said Michelle reached her son Harrison and got him on his way back in, then swam back out to help someone else. Baldwin said the adults were all working to help the children.

"It wasn't until she was on her way back in that Michelle started struggling. I swam with her, kept telling her to keep calm, to breath and to keep kicking her feet."

In the meantime two men entered the water with a "pool noodle" flotation device and wrapped it around Michelle.

She collapsed on shore. A doctor and two nurses — one nurse a friend of the group — began to perform CPR. EHS arrived along with two fire trucks.

"I kept telling her she was going to make it.  I told her she was a hero, she saved the kids."

Fighting back tears, Baldwin said her sister passed away on the beach.

"That was her in her everyday life, she was always taking care of everyone — her friends, her family, her co-workers — she loved being around people. She loved life."

Baldwin said many others that day were part of the rescue effort, including Chris McKinnon of River Ryan.

"Chris saved a lot of lives that day. He stayed calm and kept everyone calm."

Baldwin said after rescuing the children at least five other adults had distress issues, including one man who was transported to hospital and later released.

Michelle's husband, Karl was not with the group. He had stayed home to look after the family's new puppy. After learning of the tragedy, he rushed to the scene and took his children home.

Baldwin's husband, Kenny, said everyone else stayed at the campground, it was too late to be hauling trailers.

"Everyone was still in shock."

Michelle’s parents, Diane and Glenn White of New Waterford, were at the campground, but had left earlier in the day and were near Baddeck when they heard the news.

Diane White said no family should ever have to deal with such a loss.

"For Glenn and I, our hearts are broken," said White, through tears. "There is nothing worse than losing your child. I don't know how we can go on without our rock. Michelle was our go-to girl. She loved her children. She died as she worked, saving people."

Darren O'Quinn, who co-owns the Community Press newspaper with Michelle's husband, was at the campground, but not at the water at the time of the incident.

He said Michelle was one of the nicest people a person could ever meet.

"My wife and Michelle have been best friends since they were 10 years old. My little fellow said to me, 'I've never seen you cry before.'  I just can't stop.

"She was that person who'd do anything for anyone — her own kids, anyone's kids."

Connie Gregory, director of provincial programs for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, including palliative care, said Michelle Curtis was the clinical nurse lead for palliative care and officially worked in palliative care and oncology for 20 years, whom she described as a tremendous patient and family advocate.

"She had a very vibrant, large personality, big smile, was very friendly and outgoing with an incredible passion for palliative care."

Gregory said Michelle was also at the forefront of every fundraiser for the Hospice Palliative Care Society of Cape Breton.

"We loved her for her incurable passion, incredible energy and incredible commitment."

Dr. Anne Frances D'Intino, a palliative care physician, worked with Michelle for about 17 years.

"She had a kind of personality that just made the work days full. She lived life to the fullest."

She said Michelle was instrumental in improving palliative care services.

"That was her passion. Her legacy will be felt for a long time in our community."

smontgomery@cbpost.com

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