After three hours of rescue efforts, a miracle.

Drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 4, and most drownings happen when these children are unsupervised around swimming pools. Thousands of people die from drowning every year.

20-month-old Waylon Saunders could have been just another statistic. When he was found in a freezing cold swimming pool, face down, he had been there for at least five minutes.

His body temperature was so low that first responders couldn’t get a reading of it on their thermometers. The toddler had no pulse.

The Rush to Prevent Tragedy

Nevertheless, he was rushed to Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital, a small, regional hospital in Petrolia, Ontario. There was no special pediatric team there to receive him.

Instead, a makeshift team including nurses and lab technicians gathered to try to revive the boy. They took turns performing CPR—and didn’t stop for three hours. They used every trick in the book to warm his frighteningly cold body.

When the small boy’s body finally reached a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, his heart beat came back. And it was nothing short of a miracle that it kept beating. The team allowed themselves to hope against all odds that Waylon would come out of this alive. Still, the fight was far from over.

Waylon was intubated and connected to a ventilator. A team had been dispatched from the larger Children’s Hospital in London, Ontario; and once Waylon was relatively stable, the boy was transferred to the pediatric critical care unit there. 

The staff worried about what they called organ instability. Over the next couple days, they worked to keep Waylon comfortable, hoping that his organs would be able to heal. As time ticked on, doctors were still uncertain that Waylon would pull through.

Miracles Do Happen

And then, a miracle happened. Waylon started to wake up. He was alive.

“We were really trying to keep him alive,” said Dr. Janice Tijssen, director of the pediatric critical care unit at Children’s Hospital. The longer they could do so, the better the odds that the boy’s organs would heal and he would recover.

Waylon remained at Children’s Hospital for two weeks. At the end of that time, the boy, who had been by all medical definitions dead at the scene, had made enough progress in his healing and was stable enough to go home.

“He’s exceeded all expectations,” said Dr. Janice Tijssen, clearly proud of the huge efforts made by everyone at the two hospitals.

But how had the boy ended up in the swimming pool outside his daycare in the first place? Inspectors dispatched to investigate the scene at the unlicensed at-home daycare discovered a lack of proper fencing. The pool was in violation of several municipal bylaws, and the 50-year-old daycare owner was charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm. 

Because of a huge shortage in daycare spaces, parents are often forced to send their children to unlicensed daycares, and in fact, the practice is not illegal in Ontario.

Focusing on Heroism

Waylon’s mother Gillian Burnett prefers to comment on the heroic rescue efforts of staff at the two hospitals.

“The other day I told them that they’re God’s soldiers,” she said. “I will forever love them; they are like a big family to us. They have a piece of my heart for the rest of my life.”

It is indeed because of their unfailing efforts in a seemingly hopeless situation that young Waylon is alive today.

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