Salinas man unresponsive after suffering medical emergency on vacation

SALINAS, Calif. (KGO) -- A family from the Monterey Peninsula is dealing with tremendous uncertainty following a medical crisis during a vacation in Italy.

RC Schwertfeger of Salinas is currently in a vegetative state (and on life support) in an Italian hospital, after suffering a near-drowning while swimming with his grandchildren on July 10th.

"This could have happened to anyone," says Erika Yanez, a friend of the Schwertfeger family. "Anyone who's traveling overseas abroad, a tragic accident can happen like this and you don't expect it."

Family members tell ABC7 News that Schwertfeger's wife pulled him from the water. The couple had been in Italy since mid-June to celebrate their 43rd wedding anniversary and to visit their daughter, son-in-law and five grandchildren.

Friends and family have started a GoFundMe account to help raise money to bring Schwertfeger back home to Monterey County. They want him to be seen by medical providers in the United States, but Italian officials won't release him until the family is able to secure an air ambulance.

The family has been quoted a minimum of $137,000 for the flight and crew, and the bill must be paid in full before any arrangements can be made.

"We are in a ring of hell," says Marisa Merkle, Schwertfeger's daughter. "Every day when we think we're getting closer to getting out of it, we find we're getting deeper in."

Schwertfeger taught in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District for more than 30 years, mainly at the kindergarten level, before retiring. He also coached basketball and baseball at Seaside High School, his alma mater.

"He wore a tuxedo on the first day of school so that the children would see that it was a special day," Merkle said.

Solomon Terry, one of Schwertfeger's best friends since childhood, says he's now doing all he can to get the word out about the online fundraiser.

"I love him and his family," says Terry. "I miss him deeply."

Click here to donate to the family's GoFundMe.
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