Drug Counselor Rescued From a Lake by Seven Priests on a Floating Tiki Bar

September 15, 2020 Updated: September 15, 2020

A drug treatment counselor, who has been seven years sober, was rescued in extraordinary fashion after his kayak flipped on a family trip in early August.

Jimmy MacDonald, from Albany, paddled his kayak a distance away from his wife and step-children at Lake George, New York, so that he could take photos with his new smartphone. Relaxed and distracted, he didn’t notice that the waters around him were growing increasingly choppy until it was too late.

Fighting against the undertow, MacDonald told WNYT he eventually tipped the kayak, lost his paddle, and fell into the lake.

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“My pride and ego told me, ‘I’ll figure this out,’” he explained. But in 30-foot-deep water with an ill-fitting life preserver and a $1,400 smartphone in his hand, the reformed addict started to panic.

“That’s when I said, ‘Alright, I think I might die today. I think this might be it,’” he admitted. “Nobody could see me and the feeling in my chest was like, wow, this is it.”

MacDonald yelled for help, but to no avail.

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Out of earshot of his family and other boaters on the lake, he prayed to Jesus. At that moment, the captain of a floating tiki bar carrying seven Catholic priests caught sight of MacDonald’s paddle, and then the counselor himself, struggling beside his capsized kayak.

Captain Greg Barrett of Lake George’s Tiki Tours was hosting seven priests and seminarians from the Paulist Fathers of Washington on a tee-total Catholic retreat. But upon catching sight of MacDonald in the water, their joy ride turned into a rescue mission.

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“[A]s I turned the boat toward him, I realized his life preserver had been in the upper portion of his head,” Barrett recalled. The capsized kayaker was holding on for dear life.”

“Deb Oliveira, our new deckhand on her first day of work, and four of the priests scooped him up onto the bow of the boat,” Barrett later regaled to Glens Falls Living. “His eyes were the size of silver dollars.”

The tiki bar returned the exhausted kayaker to his family, where he recovered quickly, and the group took photos for posterity.

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(Illustration – Cole Carrara/Shutterstock)

MacDonald, relieved and grateful for his rescue, urged others to ensure that their life preservers are worn correctly if heading out onto a body of water. He also hopes that the story of his timely rescue inspires caution, and reverence, in others.

The Paulist Fathers openly credit a higher power. “We’re missionaries,” second-year seminarian Chris Malano reflected, speaking to WNYT. “For us, that day, that was our mission: to be present and to help someone in need.”

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The former drug addict saved himself from drowning in addiction, and ironically a floating tiki bar saved his life, seven years later. The entire rescue episode is not lost on MacDonald.

“I just take that as a sign from God that He’s got me here for a real reason,” he concluded, making a pledge to ask for help sooner in the future, and to continue helping other addicts keep their heads above water.

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