At just 19 years old, Nathan Wolski found himself in the fight of his life. But a kind stranger who was at the right place at the right time would come to his aid when he needed it m`ost.
The California native was camping with his family at San Diego's San Elijo State Beach on June 26 when he fell headfirst into shallow water while attempting to cross a channel of sand. Wolski's head slammed into the sand beneath the water, breaking his C5 vertebrae and tearing the ligaments in his neck.
"The sand kind of collapsed and my legs just went down with the sand, but my upper body kept going forward," he recalls to PEOPLE (The TV Show!) in Friday's episode. "It just tilted my body, and my head went straight in, and I just hit the sand under the water."
Wolski was stuck floating in the water, unable to move, with the current taking him further away and out of reach of the relatives who were with him. That's when an unfamiliar person stepped in to help.
"I just remember someone flipping me, and then I was just kind of in shock," says Wolski, a computer science and engineering major at Cal State Long Beach.
That person was nurse Parisa Voigt, who — by chance — was visiting the area with her family months after they had moved to Michigan. "I was watching my son, two of my sons and two nephews," Voigt recalls. "We were the only ones there."
As she was getting ready to leave, Voigt noticed Wolski face down in the water in an area where people don't usually swim. She assumed he was looking at something underwater, until she heard one of his cousin's cry out for help.
"I just threw my phone out of my pocket and jumped in. I hadn't swum there before, but I think it must have been shallow enough for me to touch because I just caught him," the 34-year-old says. "He was moving down pretty fast, down the lagoon, and I caught him by the shoulders and just turned him around. Just like they do in swim lessons with my kids, just to let you get the quickest breath that you could. And he didn't cough. He didn't clear his throat. He just took a big breath and said, 'Thank you.'"
But as Voigt helped, she realized Wolski could not move on his own. She stayed with him in the water and tried to grasp what happened to this young man she didn't know.
"I didn't know what was going on, but it didn't seem like he was moving. I thought I could just help him out of the water, that he would be okay," she says. "I didn't want to move him too much. I had no idea what was happening."
Once emergency services arrived, Voigt left the scene while Wolski embarked on what would be a long and arduous recovery process.
He has since had a successful surgery to fuse his neck and take care of his broken bones, but he also went through several setbacks, such as suffering a collapsed lung and being placed on a ventilator, a GoFundMe set up for family states.
Today, Wolski is able to walk again and was even reunited with Voigt on Nov. 24, where he was able to thank her for the quick-thinking decisions she made that likely spared him from a worse outcome. The reunion came into fruition thanks to the efforts of Wolski's mother, Gretchen, who reached out after a lifeguard gave her Voigt's contact information.
"We're family now," Voigt says of the connection she has since built with Wolski and his mother.
"She knows what I call her," Gretchen adds. "She's Nathan's angel."
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