Miraculous vacation rescue changes Kettering man’s life

Sometimes the best times of life can end up being the worst. Dean Waggenspack of Kettering said he never understood this completely until one fateful day in 2022, when a freak accident almost ended his life.

Born and raised in Alliance, Ohio, Dean graduated from high school in 1974 and from Mount Union College in 1978. He finished his MBA at Duke in North Carolina and was hired in 1980 to work in Dayton for NCR as a financial analyst.

“I met my wife, Rose two years later through a work recreational volleyball league,” Dean said.

Rose had moved to Mentor, Ohio at the age of five and graduated from high school in 1972. She went to the University of Dayton and was also a financial analyst.

“We got married in 1983 and had our first baby in 1984,” Rose said. “In 1985, I decided to stay home with my kids.”

The couple eventually had four children – three sons and a daughter – and Dean continued building his career at NCR. Meanwhile Rose got licensed in massage therapy.

“I always thought caring for people was something I’d enjoy,” Rose said.

Dean eventually decided to leave NCR after the company announced their departure from Dayton for Atlanta in 2010. Dean was offered a job in Atlanta but declined since his family was settled and happy in Dayton.

“I grew up in a family of teachers, so I decided to teach at Miami Valley Career Technology Center (CTC),” Dean said.

After a stint at MVCTC, Dean taught personal finance at Mississinawa Valley High School in Darke County. He then began what he calls “Dean version 3,” launching Dean Waggenspack Coaching — in 2015.

“I started a blog on business topics ten years ago,” Waggenspack said. “I also published a book in 2023 on the topic of making changes to achieve what you want in business.”

Then the unthinkable happened.

On Nov. 22, 2022, Dean and Rose were in St. Croix, Virgin Islands for a Thanksgiving family vacation. Their oldest son, Stephen, arrived with his parents, while daughter Amanda, son Luke, and son Nathan planned to arrive the next day.

“Rose, Stephen and I wanted to scout out some things to do on the island,” Dean said. “So we decided to go to the tide pools.”

The Annaly Bay/Carambola Tide pools are a popular destination for tourists. Accessed by a two-mile hike through a rainforest, the pools seem safe and easy to access. Dean remembers reading warnings about not visiting during high tide and advisements to wear sturdy shoes.

“We went during low tide,” Dean said. “The pools are surrounded by volcanic rock that create shallow wading pools that you can sit in.”

Rose, Dean and Stephen were in one of the tide pools with a water depth of less than a foot. Suddenly three waves came up over the rocks Dean was knocked over and sucked down into a small hole. He was deposited into a pitch-black cavern, where he was up to his elbows in water and completely disoriented.

“I was down there and figured I was going to die because I was trapped,” Dean said. “The tide would eventually come up and I would drown.”

From Rose’s perspective, her husband of almost 40 years was there in front of her one moment and then gone without a trace. She couldn’t see or hear him.

“I grabbed Stephen, and we rushed back to the beach,” Rose said.

Stephen flagged down two tourists who called 911 and when two tour guides arrived minutes later, Rose, who was by now hysterical, asked them if they could help. They promised her they would find her husband.

After 40 minutes of being trapped in the underwater cave, Dean was rescued after the guides found him and called out that they were going to toss him a rope.

“I didn’t know how the rope was going to come to me,” Dean said. “I just stuck out my arms and it fell into them.”

By the time Dean was rescued, he had hypothermia, had aspirated and swallowed substantial amounts of salt water and had abrasions all over his body. A helicopter was flown in to lift Dean out of the water and from there, he was flown to the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital in St. Croix. Within 24 hours, Dean was off oxygen, sitting up and able to carry on conversations with his family.

“I had to spend Thanksgiving in the hospital,” Dean said.

Dean was released the next day and with his family, went to visit the people who had stepped up to rescue him.

As a result of his ordeal, Dean’s outlook on life has forever changed. In February of this year, he published his second book, “The Ledge and the Abyss: Near Death, Rescue and the Search for Meaning,” inspired by his accident and subsequent rescue. “This is my story of resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles,” Dean said. “But it’s also about ordinary people making decisions to step up to help, even when there is seemingly no hope.”

Proceeds from this book are going to help the hospital in St. Croix rebuild after being heavily damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

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