I have lived in Newport Beach since I was 5 years old. From 1992 to 1996, I really suffered with asthma and had numerous near-death attacks.

The Newport Beach Fire Department and marine operations came to my aid on numerous occasions. Responders not only would take me to Hoag Hospital, but they would follow up the next day with a phone call.

My life was forever changed July 12, 1994, when I had a severe asthma attack at The Wedge. It was a high-surf day, so I went to watch the body surfers. After about a half hour of watching, I started having difficulty breathing.

I wanted to go home to use my nebulizer but it was really hot, and as I was walking back to my car, my breathing got worse. I got to a bench and didn't know if I could make it to my car. I honestly thought I was going to die. So I decided to go back to the lifeguard tower.

When I got to the tower, Alan Buchanan immediately dispatched the paramedics. I started seeing stars and was working so hard to breathe, but it just kept getting worse. Then the paramedics, Ron Gamble and Doyle King, who knew me really well, got to me.

I could tell by their faces as they tried to keep me calm that it was bad and that I was close to unconsciousness. I ended up in the critical care room.

Later, I was walking along the beach and saw Catalina Island. I decided I wanted to swim there. The entire department watched me train, and I did swim the channel in July 1996. The department sent four lifeguards to be pace swimmers and paddlers. Chris Graham, the Newport Beach Lifeguard Assn. president at the time, was the manager of my swim.

These people are more than lifeguards. They are compassionate people who really care about the community. In honor of everything they have done for me, and the 20th anniversary of that experience, I plan to swim in Newport Beach's annual Pier 2 Pier Swim at 10 a.m. Saturday. Buchanan, who I haven't seen since he called for help, will be paddling for me.

I just cried when I heard about lifeguard Ben Carlson's death because the department has helped me so much.

I am still severely asthmatic, but since 1994 I have earned two master's degrees, climbed rocks and done aerial arts (flying trapeze, silks, lyra and hammock). Most importantly, I have been an elementary school teacher since 1999 and currently teach kindergarten.

I have had three emergency room visits since January, and this 2-mile swim will be a major accomplishment for me because I haven't been able to work out since.

JULIE MOORE lives in Newport Beach.