A quick trip to Florida to visit the in-laws turned into a test of two physicians’ skills to resuscitate a drowning 3-year-old.
While strolling through the high rise they were staying at in Hallandale Beach on Dec. 4, WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital nephrologist Jenny Suders and long-term acute care hospitalist at WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial Hospital Dan Suders heard a “slap” and a scream for help.
“I think the mom was trying to hit his back, so I thought maybe someone was choking,” recalled Jenny Suders. “Then I realized, ‘Oh, I think she needs help.’”
Heading to the source of the commotion, the Suders saw a child’s limp body at the side of the pool. The 3-year-old had learned to swim last summer, and his mother glancing away from him for one second at the pool caused a life-threatening situation.
Upon seeing the unresponsive child, the Suders sprang into action – Dan Suders doing chest compressions and Jenny Suders calling 911. Describing this moment as “instincts kicking in,” Dan Suders explained that in CPR situations, “there is no time to think and contemplate.”
“We just had to move fast to help this kid,” he added.
As Dan Suders performed mouth-to-mouth, water began to spill from the child’s mouth and nose.
“It felt like it lasted forever,” recalled Jenny Suders. “But after two rounds, he had started to breathe and come back.”
After two intense minutes of CPR, hearing the child cry was a relief for the couple. Though he was still spitting out water periodically during the wait for the EMTs, the 3-year-old’s mother was able to comfort him.
As soon as they left the pool, Dan Suders scooped his own 1-year-old daughter into a hug and held on to her as long as he could.
“I was a little shell-shocked,” described Jenny Suders, who became teary-eyed recalling the event. “The mom definitely activated my own maternal instinct. When she turned around and screamed for help, I’ll never forget the look on her face.
“That was the most intense fear I’ve ever seen on someone’s face,” she added.
The importance of staying up-to-date in their field hit home for the doctors that day.
“It’s because I maintain basic life support training that I knew the CPR positions were different with kids,” noted Dan Suders. “That’s how I knew what exactly to do.”
While some tears were shed in the moment, the 3-year-old did not let the incident put a damper on his vacation. After an overnight stay at the hospital, the child was back in the pool the next day.
The couple recalled seeing him running around the high rise, and Jenny Suders joked he was probably wondering why they kept staring at him.
“The family told us he was even making jokes and having a good time at the hospital,” said Jenny Suders with a laugh. “He was just totally unfazed, living his 3½ -year-old life climbing trees and causing a ruckus.”
Seeing the family enjoy the rest of their vacation relieved the Suders, as their trip could have taken a much grimmer turn that day.
“I remember thinking after seeing the dad out golfing one day, ‘I’m really glad they’re able to go on with their vacation instead of planning a funeral for a 3½-year-old,’” described Jenny Suders. “Their vacation could continue instead of a total derailment of their life.”
Since the event, she joked they constantly give out “why to become CPR-certified PSAs.”
The couple emphasized that with the right training, anyone could have saved the child that day. Just knowing the basics of “call 911, chest compressions and mouth to mouth,” noted Dan Suders, gives anyone the ability to “jump in and help.”
Segueing into their next PSA on pool safety, Jenny Suders also stressed to stay vigilant when children are at the pool. Adding that the child’s mom was very attentive, she noted that a moment of silence while a child is in the pool can often signal danger.
“It’s not like the movies where the kid is flailing around, it’s very quiet,” described Jenny Suders. “The family didn’t even know he had stopped jumping around.”
Following the “interesting but rewarding experience” for the couple, Jenny Suders said, “Thankfully, the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful.”
Departing Florida on Dec. 7, the couple left with a reaffirmation of why they chose their career and a story to tell for many holidays to come.