After being near death twice, local cop keeps smiling
By: JOHN HALL - Staff Writer
TEMECULA ---- After 25 years in law enforcement, it wasn't the perils of police work that nearly killed Tony Goss. Twice.
Instead, for the 47-year-old Temecula police corporal, it was nearly being lost at sea near Cuba ---- where he was ultimately rescued by a Danish freighter and the Mexican Navy ---- as well as the discovery of a medical condition that required emergency brain surgery.
Surviving both, the 16-year Temecula resident says he has gained a new love for life and a deep appreciation for how fleeting it can be.
Goss discovered that firsthand while undergoing an angiogram, or an X-ray of blood vessels, the day before his brain surgery. It was supposed to just be one final check before the surgery.
Instead, the angiogram put him into full cardiac arrest and Goss was clinically dead for several seconds on the table.
"I kinda got off to a bad start with the operation," Goss says now with a laugh. "I was a little nervous about this whole program."
That's typical Goss, who always has a smile and a happy-go-lucky attitude ---- no matter how bad things might seem.
"I get up every morning and I smile. I'm just happy to be alive every day," he says.
"After you die, you get this realization of just how fragile life is. It could have been taken away from me in a moment," Goss said.
While having the angiogram done, Goss suddenly heard the voices of those around him fading.
"I heard someone saying, 'Anthony, we need you to breathe,'" Goss said.
"I'm fading out and thinking, 'Who is this Anthony guy and why isn't he breathing. He really needs to breathe,'" Goss says with another laugh. "Then I realized it was me they were talking to, but nobody's ever called me Anthony my whole life."
Doctors revived him and the March 2003 brain surgery went on as scheduled.
The need for brain surgery
The need for the surgery came after Goss went to Dr. Jay Ferns in Temecula after experiencing headaches Goss describes as "daggers being shoved into the left side of my head."
Ferns sent him out for an MRI during which the technician said "there's a problem here," Goss recalls. Turns out Goss had what he describes as a "small cluster of veins tangled up like fishing line."
"If any of those had popped, I could have died from a massive stroke," he said.
Doctors set up the emergency surgery and required him to do a living trust or will. They gave him a couple of days to get his life in order.
The chief of neurosurgery at UCLA headed up a team of five surgeons and the surgery took about 12 hours, Goss said. He remained in the hospital for another four or five days.
Goss ultimately was cleared by doctors to come back to work on full duty about a year later. Things were going along fine until about September 2004 when he was talking to a Realtor friend and "I started seeing these white butterflies flying in front of me."
Goss collapsed, lost consciousness, and woke up in the hospital with no idea what had happened. He was told he had experienced a grand mal seizure.
That meant more time off, at least six months, so Goss figured he'd relax and spend some time on his boat.
Nearly lost at sea
"I grew up in Newport Beach so I've been on boats since I was about 9 years old," Goss said.
About seven years ago, Goss bought four waterfront lots, or about 240 feet of waterfront land, on Ambergris Caye in the Central American country of Belize. His goal is to build and open a small resort hotel there after he retires.
In November 2004, he bought a 41-foot boat and spent several thousand dollars fixing it up. Since he's single and was going to be off work for a while anyway, Goss decided to take it down to his Belize property.
So in late December 2004, he and a buddy headed out from Florida with a 13-foot Boston whaler boat Goss had fixed up in tow.
As they passed through the Yucatan Channel, about halfway between the tip of western Cuba and Cancun, on the eastern edge of Mexico, they started to encounter some bad weather. The boat wasn't making much forward progress.
On Christmas Eve morning, the conditions looked better as the day started sunny and hot, Goss said. Then, they noticed dark clouds ahead and a huge storm hit. The whaler boat he was towing flipped and was destroyed almost immediately.
"There were 25-foot waves just beating the boat to death," Goss said.
At one point, his boat was tossed into the air and a bearing blew off the propeller, leaving them with no engine, only a sail.
"We were going in the right direction, but just surfing these huge waves," Goss said.
Knowing they were in serious trouble, Goss and his friend started calling "mayday" on the radio, hoping someone would hear.
"We were out there in the middle of the sea and nobody knew where we were," he said.
Finally, a rescue comes
Goss estimates they were probably about 50 miles out from Mexico when someone finally answered their call for help.
It was the Thor Swan, a Danish freighter that was en route from Texas to Aruba. But through radar and GPS coordinates, the freighter told them they were about 4 1/2 hours away.
"I told them we were just beat down and feared our mast was going to break," Goss said.
So about every 15 minutes, the freighter's captain, Jon Borgarlid, checked in with them and updated the GPS.
Borgarlid told them the storm was a "force nine," or just below hurricane level.
After two hours of communicating back and forth, Goss saw some small lights far off to the south. He used a powerful spotlight to send Morse code toward those lights.
Turns out it was a Mexican freighter that was able to contact them via radio. But that freighter couldn't get to them because it would have been heading into the storm.
The Mexican freighter contacted the Mexican Navy and told Goss a Navy boat was on its way from Cozumel, also about four hours away. The Mexican freighter stopped so they could just keep an eye on Goss' boat until the Navy could get there.
Once the Mexican navy boat got there, a rescue still could not be completed because of the massive storm, Goss said. The Danish freighter captain noticed that in about an hour Goss would be in much shallower water and suggested they just continue on to there, which they did.
Once there, the Navy boat was able to connect to Goss' and towed them up to Cozumel.
"I told (Borgarlid) that it's Christmas Day and you guys saved our lives," Goss said. "His response was, 'No, it's just what we do out here.'"
Fifteen days and several thousand dollars later, Goss had his boat repaired and he was able to pilot it to Belize where it still sits, docked and waiting for his return. Goss said he hopes to go back there in February or March.
Goss and Borgarlid have kept in touch via e-mail and Goss told him there is an open invitation for him to bring his family to the U.S. and stay at his Temecula home.
Goss sent him an e-mail two days before Christmas this year, again thanking him for coming to the rescue and giving him the chance to spend this Christmas with his family. In the e-mail, he also says how much he wants to shake Borgarlid's hand and tell his family that he's "truly a hero."
After last year, Christmas 2005 was a special one for him, Goss said. "I really appreciated it, absolutely."
Back to work
Having been cleared through neurological tests, Goss has been back on full duty for about 10 months and hasn't experienced any further medical issues. He's on anti-seizure medication and must undergo periodic extensive physical tests to make sure he's medically fit for duty.
He serves as the administrative corporal at the Southwest Sheriff's and Temecula Police Station, overseeing all volunteer programs involving about 75 volunteers. He often works patrols as well in Temecula and says nothing is different now than before his surgery.
"I'm not at all worried that something's going to happen," Goss said. "I'm glad to be back on duty and I'm looking forward to retiring and getting back to Belize."
Goss plans to retire at age 50 and spend his life relaxing at his island resort getaway.