STAMFORD, Conn. -- Not many teenagers can say they celebrated their 19th birthday by being recognized by a U.S. senator and Stamford's mayor.
But then not many people can claim to have saved a drowning person, which city lifeguard Brenda Moratoya did on Aug. 6.
In a ceremony Wednesday morning at the Government Center, Moratoya, a second-year business student at UConn-Stamford, was feted for her lifesaving action on Cummings Beach.
While working as a lifeguard at the city beach, she pulled a drowning 16-year-old New Jersey resident from the water. The teen, whose name was not released due to his age, had been placed in an induced coma when first taken to Stamford Hospital to aid his recovery. He was released only Tuesday from the hospital, city officials said.
"I feel like it wasn't only for me. It was definitely for the whole team," Moratoya said after the ceremony in which U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal gave her a certificate of recognition.
The ceremony was held to honor the city's lifeguards, about 20 of whom attended the event.
In the near-drowning incident, the teen's 15-year-old brother noticed that his older brother, who is not a strong swimmer, had drifted into deeper water at about 5:30 p.m., police said. The younger brother said he twice lost sight of his brother as the teen went under the water, police said.
He said he finally saw his brother waving his hand, and he swam toward him. Moratoya said she noticed the 16-year-old bobbing in the water but was unsure whether he was in danger. Regardless, she went in the water due to her training and soon realized the gravity of the situation.
"I did what i had to do. I just did what my natural instinct was," Moratoya said.
The teen was disoriented due to the amount of water he had swallowed although he was in water that was chest high, Moratoya said.
She put her arms under the victim's arms and grabbed him to take him to safety on the sand. Two other lifeguards, Richard Glass, 19, and Leann Moy, 20, helped in the rescue.
The 16-year-old was vomiting what appeared to be blood along with water, was having difficulty breathing and was disoriented when he was brought to the beach, police said.
The teen was rushed to Stamford Hospital. Doctors inserted a tube to assist him with breathing and to remove any water in his lungs, police said.
The brothers were visiting their aunt and uncle in Stamford, police said.
An emotional and misty-eyed Stamford Mayor David Martin, who paused to collect himself during his speech, congratulated the lifeguards for paying attention and doing their duty even when their shifts are often filled with the mundane.
"It makes me very proud," said the mayor, who told the crowd that he had been a lifeguard in 1972.
Moratoya said her career goal is to become a prosecutor but said the water has a powerful pull for her.
"If you see me in the pool, it takes hours to get me out of the pool. I love it."