The silent killer: How a near drowning impacted two families

Cooper Whitfield, 5, nearly drowned last summer at a private neighborhood pool.

No one heard 4-year-old Cooper struggle, splash, or cry for help. That’s because he didn’t.

A year ago last June, Cooper’s mom, Christie Whitfield, took Cooper and his two siblings, Molly and Kendall who were 7 and 1 at the time, to a private neighborhood pool. What began as a joy-filled, sun-soaked afternoon nearly ended in tragedy.

The hot weather drew dozens to the pool. The chairs near the shallow end of the pool were taken, so Whitfield found a seat near the deep end where she could apply sunscreen on Kendall.

Meanwhile, her oldest, Molly, jumped into the pool with a family friend. Whitfield put goggles on her son and told Cooper, who didn’t know how to swim but could touch the 3-foot section of the pool, to wait for her by the stairs of the shallow end until she could join him.

“Buddy, wait for me by the steps,” she said.

Moments later, Whitfield turned around. Cooper was nowhere to be found.

“Where’s Cooper?” she shouted.

That’s when she saw him at the bottom of the pool. Maternal instincts kicking in, she jumped into the water and screamed to others to call 911. She pulled Cooper, blue and unconscious, out of the pool.

The following moments zoomed by in a blur.

“I just kept thinking, ‘Somebody please save my baby,’” she said. “It was an out-of-body experience, but I still kept thinking and believing he was going to be okay and that this wasn’t going to be the end.”

Whitfield was trained and had been certified in CPR. But in those moments, she couldn’t comprehend what to do, she said.

Leah Mickschl did.

Mickschl, a mom of two and an RN at Midwest Children’s Resource Center, started performing CPR on Cooper. It took three rounds before he regained consciousness, she said.

“I think about it all the time,” Mickschl said.

Surveillance later showed that Cooper had jumped into the water and tried to reach a raft but missed it. He didn’t splash or gasp. Silently, he fell to the bottom of the pool. A pool that was full of adults and children who thought Cooper was just swimming underwater.

Within minutes of the rescue, police and emergency responders arrived. Mickschl stayed behind with Whitfield’s other two children so she could accompany him in an ambulance to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he was treated in the Emergency Department. While he was still in shock and remained quiet, he was breathing normally.

Cooper remained at Children’s overnight for observation so physicians could make sure there was no brain or lung damage. Today, he’s a healthy, happy 5-year-old who has returned to the water.

In a situation like a near drowning, every second counts. Police told Whitfield had it not been for Mickschl’s quick intervention, Cooper may have suffered brain damage.

Kids’ health information center

Find information and resources about kids’ health from the Children’s of Minnesota education library.

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