By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs
Special to GUIDON
The young boy peered up at me through the clear waters of Florida’s Ichetucknee Spring on the day before my 31st birthday. He looked calm, peaceful and somewhat serene. I asked a nearby adult if the child was OK, and he told me yes, that the boy had been playing in the chilly waters of this natural swimming hole earlier.
But when air bubbles rose to the surface and the child seemed to float over on his side, I knew something was seriously wrong.
We pulled the boy from the water. His hands and teeth were clutched, his eyes wide open, and foam leaked from his nose and mouth as I laid him on his back to assess the situation.
He wasn’t breathing.
I pinched his nose and administered a breath of air. With no results, I attempted a second time. My brother, also a military member trained in self aid and buddy care, stood calmly behind me, reminding me to stay focused and to tilt the child’s head back. With the third breath, his chest rose as his lungs inflated with air. I could hear the water bubbling and gurgling in his chest — and then, a cough.
A few seconds later, a staff member at the park shouted to turn the child onto his left side. She then took over the situation as I stepped back to the water’s edge in disbelief at the surreal events that just unfolded. She gave him more rescue breaths, and hit him in the back to force the cold water from his chest.
The boy’s family gathered a few feet away from him. They were crying, shouting, praying. I too said a silent prayer for God to help this child. He did.
The boy was treated for shock while we waited for the paramedics to arrive. I remember thinking his scared, terrified screams afterward were like a newborn baby fighting for life in a strange new world.
A collective sigh of relief and a round of applause from the crowd of onlookers filled the area as the boy was taken to the ambulance. He was flown via helicopter to Gainesville, Forida., and later released.
Afterward, I hugged my own children as the event replayed over and over in my mind.
Sadly, many children aren’t as lucky. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintentional fatal drowning in the U.S. averages nine people per day, or around 3,000 per year.
From 2005 to 2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings annually in the United States. Of those, one in five was a child age 14 or younger.
Although drowning rates have slowly declined the last few years, drowning remains the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths for children younger than 14.
My message for parents is this: teach your child to swim. Make sure he or she has a healthy respect for water and knows the dangers. It’s never too early to start teaching your children these valuable lessons.
It is also important to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation, because you never know when you’ll need it. My first introduction to CPR was through the Boy Scouts while in grade school, and it has been way too long since my last formal class. I intend to sign up for a refresher course soon and will insist my children take the class once they come of age.
If you’re assigned to a career field which requires a CPR class annually, take it seriously. If you’re not, seek out the training on your own.
This year, my best birthday gift was the realization that life is precious and can be cut short at any moment. Complete strangers knowing the proper steps taught in a CPR class probably saved that little boy’s life.
Next time it could be my own child, or yours.
(Editor’s note: Cohrs writes for the 347th Rescue Wing Public Affairs.)