Local News

Girl caught in Emerald Isle rip current is brain dead, family says

Posted April 25, 2019 6:44 a.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2019 4:51 p.m. EDT

— The family of the Wake Forest High School student who nearly drowned in a rip current last week said the 17-year-old is brain dead.

Paige Merical's father wrote on social media Thursday, "I wish I had good news for everyone."

John Merical went on to say, "We get to love on my baby for the next few days, with organ donation Saturday."

Paige went to Emerald Isle last Friday to spend the day with her friend and Wake Forest High School classmate, Ian Lewis, whose family had rented a house there.

Lewis, 18, got swept off in the same rip current, and his body wasn't found until it washed ashore Monday. Paige was rescued after spending 14 minutes underwater and was rushed to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville.

In an ICU bed, she spent many hours breathing on her own with the respirator turned off, family members said. But doctors said she suffered too much brain damage from the ordeal.

"While this is not the outcome that any of us prayed for, we hope that the decision Paige made to be an organ donor will not only allow her to save multiple lives but bring awareness to pediatric organ donation nationwide," the Merical family said in a statement. "What an honor it is for us, her family, to know she will be living on in others, giving them the gift of life. We would encourage others to register to become an organ donor to support the gift of life, just as Paige did."

"It is also important to us to remind people about the importance of water safety and the dangers of rip currents," the family said. "The beach is a joyous place for so many, but it can quickly become dangerous. We encourage families to educate themselves on the dangers of rip currents."

Numerous rip current deaths are reported each year in North Carolina during beach season. Between 2000 and 2017, rip currents killed more people in North and South Carolina than flooding, tornadoes and lightning combined.

The Merical family thanked everyone who prayed for Paige in the past week, as well as the first responders and all of the doctors and nurses who cared for her.

"We have been inundated with your love and prayers that have given us hope and sustained us during our time of grief," they said.

Wake Forest High students organized a candlelight vigil for their two classmates on Tuesday.

"Your tireless search for Ian Lewis to bring him home to his family means more than you could know," the Merical family added to first responders.

Funeral arrangements are still pending, but a private flag-raising ceremony and tower lighting to honor Paige's life and her organ donation will be held Friday evening at Vidant Medical Center.