Woman Who Saved Vet ‘Flailing' in Mass. Pond Honored With Civilian Bravery Award

The 2021 Madeline Amy Sweeney Award for Civilian Bravery was given to Anette Szivos for saving a Vietnam veteran from a pond in Gardner

NBC Universal, Inc.

Annette Szivos was enjoying Dunn State Park in Gardner, Massachusetts, with her grandchildren in June when the serenity of the day was suddenly shattered.

"Someone came in yelling," Szivos recalled.

It was the terrified screaming of an elderly woman pleading to help a man drowning in a nearby pond.

"He was, like, flailing," said Szivos. "His arms were just flailing and I could see him going under and then struggling to get himself back up."

Szivos asked a woman to watch her grandchildren, took off her shoes and jumped in the water.

"I went in and when I reached him, he was still awake, and he was asking, 'Please help me, just help me.' And so I took his arm and I was able to bop him up and down to keep his head up," she said.

The water was over the petite 66-year-old's head, and the person she was helping was 6-foot-2.

"All I kept thinking is if this gentleman drowns and I did nothing, it's just not right," Szivos said.

And in the moment, she didn't think twice about her own safety.

"I was just hoping and yelling, 'Someone help me, someone please help me!'" Szivos said.

Her screams for help got the attention of a man walking around the pond, who helped her swim the victim to safety.

It turns out he'd had a medical episode while fishing and lost his balance, falling into the murky water.

"Had I not gone in, he would not be here," said Szivos, "because he just didn't have the strength to come up."

She recently reunited with the man she saved, Vietnam veteran Andre Lepage and his wife Joan. She now cherishes a card the couple wrote her.

"We have more years together and more memories to share because of your bravery," the letter reads.

And on Saturday, Szivos was humbled to be recognized with the Madeline Amy Sweeney Award for Civilian Bravery.

Through tears, she said of the honor, "I just, I feel good, I just feel like I was able to help someone, and I keep thinking, like, how proud my family is."

Now her 4-year-old granddaughter, who witnessed the rescue, wants to be a lifeguard when she grows up, so she can save people like her memere did, Szivos said.

The award is named for the American Airlines flight attendant from Acton, Massachusetts, who 20 years ago Saturday contacted a crew on the ground to relay information about the men who'd hijacked Flight 11 and crashed it into the World Trade Center.

"While we never stopped grieving our loved ones, we learned how to live with their memory," Amy Sweeney's sister, Anna, said at the award ceremony Saturday.

The award was presented to Szivos by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

Contact Us