Location: Burlington, Vermont
Date: August 16, 1993
August 16, 1993, was a hot and sunny day in Burlington, Vermont. 15-year-old Paula Haskell was inside her home, taking care of her three younger brothers. While 6-year-old David napped upstairs, Paula watched TV with 2-year-old Wesley and his 8-year-old brother, J.J.. Paula and J.J. saw Wesley wander out of the living room and heard him go upstairs, presumably to wake up David and coax him into playing.
A few minutes later, hearing no further sounds, Paula grew concerned and sent J.J. to look for Wesley. He found him, floating face up, unconscious, in the family swimming pool, and ran to get Paula, who began screaming in terror at the sight of his motionless little body.
Donna Hayes, who was watching her three children playing in their pool next door, heard Paula's screams and sprang into action. "I knew something major had happened," Donna said. "She let out one long scream, and then she was completely hysterical. She just kept screaming and screaming and screaming."
Donna ran next door, and Paula told her, "Wesley's in the pool--he's drowned." Get him out," Donna said. Then she went back to her house, called 911, and rushed back next door to find Paula kneeling over Wesley's body, rubbing her back. "I remember the smell of vomit and the purple--he was so purple, with these big white eyes," she said.
"I felt for a pulse, and didn't feel anything. I thought, 'Oh my God, how do you do CPR?' I gave him two rescue breaths, and then I knew his airway was open because his chest was beginning to rise. Then I went into chest compressions and then back to rescue breathing--and then I kept following the cycle. It was so hard--he was just so floppy and lifeless. I kept yelling, 'He's okay, Paula,' not knowing of course, if he was, but just needing to calm her down. "I was thinking, 'This is my fault. I'm supposed to be watching him and he's drowned because of me,' " Paula said.
For what seemed an unbearably long time, Wesley did not appear to respond to Donna's efforts. "I have no idea how long I was doing it. It seemed like forever," Donna said. "Finally, I thought I saw his eyes move and he started to make noises. I knew then that something had happened--I knew his heart had started. Then I just kept doing rescue breathing, knowing that was not going to hurt him."
Within 5 minutes of Donna's call, she heard sirens at the front of her house and a rescue unit from the Burlington Fire Department arrived, which included EMT Brian Trudeau. "When we got there, the child was already breathing. He seemed to be conscious, but he wasn't really responding to us." Wesley was rolled on his side to keep his airway clear until medics arrived to give him oxygen therapy, place him on a backboard as a precaution in case of spinal injury, and transport him to the nearest hospital.
"Donna reacted as calmly as anyone probably could," Trudeau said later, assessing the situation. "I think there's a very good chance that the child could have suffered some kind of brain damage had she not started the CPR." "I never thought I'd be able to handle an emergency," Donna said, "but the fact that I knew CPR made me calm. Before we got our pool, I wanted my husband to be certified in CPR. He said, 'I've seen it on TV. I could probably do it.' I said, 'No, you need to know the details. You have to take a course.' "
Wesley was released from the hospital on the following day with no sign of permanent injury, to the enormous relief of his family. "The day after he came home, he was running around again and just fine," Paula said. "I can't express how thankful I am for everyone who helped. I've learned from this that you never take you off a child for a minute. You have no idea where a child can wander off to."
Bob Haskell, Wesley's father, put a fence around the pool the following week. "It doesn't take long to drown," he said. "I'm just so grateful that Donna was there. If she hadn't been, I think my son would be dead." "It didn't really hit me until I saw Wesley again," Donna said. "That was when I finally realized what had happened--that I had looked at a baby that had no life in him and given him the breath of life. It's incredible."