By 1st Sgt. Jared Dowland, 128th Signal Company, 39th Signal BattalionApril 23, 2014
The following is a first-person account of events that transpired on April 20, 2014.
MONS, Belgium (Apr. 20, 2014) -- On Easter, April 20, 2014, my wife and I planned on taking our three sons to the Jemappes Park just outside of Mons. They were supposed to have an Easter Egg hunt for the local children. When we awoke that Sunday morning it was fairly cool outside with a forecast of scattered showers so we were undecided whether we would go to the park or not. At about 1 p.m. we decided that we would go, although the Easter Egg hunt was over.
We arrived at the park around 1:30 p.m. My wife and I sat down on a picnic table as the boys ran for the playground. We had been there about five minutes when my wife got up to assist our two-year-old son on the playground equipment. At that time I noticed a small commotion over my right shoulder about 50 meters away near the water. It appeared some people were goofing around next to the water. I noticed someone appeared to have water dripping from them, but paid no more attention. I'm not sure how much time had passed, but my wife returned and looked behind me and said, "I think someone is hurt over there." I stood up and tried to comprehend what was going on.
I saw a man pick up a boy from the walkway and place him in the grass. I had forgotten about the commotion from earlier; therefore, I didn't make the connection that someone was pulled from the water. We started guessing what happened. At first I assumed someone had a medical condition or just passed out. Then a man appeared to be pressing on the abdomen of the person on the ground. Even then I said, "Maybe he choked on something." After a couple of minutes I realized this person was actually unconscious. At that moment, things started coming together quickly. There was about five to seven adults around trying to help and they all began motioning for help from the restaurant. They were beginning to stand up and walk around with their hands on their heads and making other body language that nothing more can be done. I told my wife, "They don't know what to do!" She said, "You have to do something."
I was hesitant at first because I was aware that a lot of time had already passed, nor was it known how long this boy had stopped breathing in the cold water. She told me, "Get over there and save him." To be honest, the others appeared so hopeless that maybe they knew he had been in the water too long to be revived. I began walking in the direction then slowly picked up a light jog. Everyone parted as if somehow I appeared confident which gave them the hope that I knew what to do. As I approached the boy and knelt beside him I felt myself well up with tears while maintaining my composure. Everything about this boy's appearance told me he was dead. He was in the water too long before he was discovered, and that reviving him was probably not possible. All of this raced through my mind while my body was taking unhesitating action.
I quickly began chest compressions followed by a breath of air. The boy's body and eyes were lifeless and cold as the Spring Belgian water. I pinched his nose and the first breath was hard to force in. Then I instructed the father to push, so that he could do the compressions. He appeared to have a good pace and was doing well. I would stop him so that I could give the boy a breath. The second breath made his chest rise and I could hear gurgling. The father continued compressions. My mind told me, "The air went to his stomach." So I remembered CPR training from years ago at Fort Gordon: Tilt the head back farther to open the airway. The next breath made the same gurgling sound as the boy's chest rose. At this time I was still worried the air was entering the stomach so I just did the best I could to keep his head tilted back. After a few rotations I was losing hope and began tearing up more, but probably not noticeable to the onlookers. I was sure the boy was dead...
At this time I wasn't sure if it was our training that kept me going. I wasn't thinking about the lifesaving steps and that I'm supposed to continue until medics arrive, but I couldn't stop. We kept it up despite what looked hopeless. My mind was saying, "You don't know how long he was under water, you don't know how long he's been lifeless....but I kept going." After what seemed like many minutes water began shooting from his nose so I instinctively, and from training, turned his head to the side. When the water stopped I made a quick wipe to clean his mouth of debris and mucus, and gave another breath. Water again came out and I again turned his head. After a couple more rotations I saw color returning to his face. I shouted "He's going to be alright!, He's going to be alright." It was a miracle. I'm swelling with tears as I write this.
How can he be alive, he's so cold? After about two more cycles of compressions and breaths, his eyes opened wide. I told the father to stop. I held the boy's hand tight and held on. I was listening for breathing and chest rising, but couldn't see it. I gave one more breath. At that time he started moaning. I was frantic to get his cold, wet clothes off and shouted for some dry clothes but no one understood me. My wife brought me a hoodie and we placed it over the boy. He started crying as I removed his jacket and I knew he had made it. I stood up, full of emotion, full of adrenaline...shaking. I was crying and walked away. I didn't want to interfere. I, along with everyone else, was in shock. I returned when the police and ambulance arrived. About that time, my commander also arrived to translate for the police. The emergency medical team took about 15 minutes after the boy was revived. They thanked me profusely and said I made their job easier, because they said it takes a first responder in these cases because there is simply no way they can make it on time to revive a victim of this nature.
Afterwards I sat in the police car waiting to make my statement, I kept asking if the boy was alright, if we didn't crush his chest or cause damage from too big of breaths. Also, my biggest concern was brain damage. They assured me he was okay and told me they were taking him to La Louviere hospital. I checked on him that night and the nurses said he'll make a full recovery. He wasn't injured, nor did he have any brain damage. The father and I were both crying as he hugged me and kissed me. It was an emotional reunion to say the least. The nurse did her best to translate for us. After a few minutes I left.
I checked on the boy Monday at 2 p.m., about 24 hours exactly from the time he was revived. He looked amazing! It was as if nothing had happened! He was in his Spiderman pajamas with his mother and sisters. I had brought him a small toy and told him I was happy that he's doing well. The mother and older sister thanked me, and we departed ways.
What I had taken away from this is that our training is important. As Soldiers, we're more capable than the average citizen because of the training we receive. In hind sight, I know some of the steps I missed, but in the heat of the moment, reviving the boy was all that was on my mind. I'm sure it was learning through repetition and hands-on training that made it all second nature. I'm sure it has come to a surprise to many of the by-standers that I'm a U.S. Soldier. My actions two days ago goes to show that we're the best trained and ready force in the world. I only had done what any other Soldier is capable of doing. I owe my actions to the U.S. Army....and the encouragement of my wonderful wife, Marie.