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Holiday girl, 2, recovers from near-drowning

By CHRIS TISCH

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 5, 2001


CLEARWATER -- At her birthday party Sunday, 2-year-old Desiree Ehrlich splashed in her aunt's pool, her tiny arm floats keeping her above water as her parents looked on.

When everyone left and headed inside, Desiree slipped away, then scaled a six-rung ladder to the rim of the above-ground pool. She either jumped or fell in the water, which was 4 feet deep. Desiree is less than 3 feet tall.

Moments later, family members noticed she was missing. They rushed to the pool, where they found her floating face-down.

She was blue when they pulled her limp body from the water. Her eyes were open and motionless. There was no pulse, no breathing.

Family members started CPR. Her father felt a heartbeat. Desiree gasped, then went silent. A neighbor who is a nurse came over and got her breathing.

Paramedics arrived a short time later. They loaded the child onto a helicopter and flew her to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Her parents not only feared she could die, but also that she was unconscious long enough to cause brain damage.

But less than 24 hours later, doctors at the hospital removed Desiree's breathing tube. She was talking to her parents and winced when poked by a needle.

Her father, Fred Ehrlich, said Monday that she suffered no brain damage and should be fine.

"She's not doing too bad," he said from the hospital Monday afternoon. "She has full functions."

Desiree, her father and her mother, Angel Wilson, of Holiday, were at Desiree's aunt's house, 1832 Barbara Lane, Sunday evening when the near-drowning occurred.

Family members and friends frolicked in the pool all day, said April Dojcsanszky, Desiree's aunt.

Dojcsanszky said she and her husband spent $1,500 to install their pool about a year ago. But on Monday, they were tearing the pool down and planning to sell it or toss it in the trash. Dojcsanszky said she's scared her 20-month-old son, Zeth, could tumble into the pool.

"We don't want to take a chance of this happening again," she said. "It was the biggest scare of our lives. It's going to be gone by the end of the night."

Ehrlich said he won't be letting his daughter into a pool any time soon, even though she enjoys paddling in the water with her floats.

"She has no fear whatsoever," he said. "She loves to swim. She swims like a champ."

Until she is older, Ehrlich said, he will only take his daughter to the beach, where she can splash in shallow water.

He said the experience was terrifying.

"She wasn't breathing, there was no pulse rate," he said. "She was solid blue. Basically, she was dead."

Dojcsanszky said she is thankful her neighbor, nurse Felicia Murry, came to the rescue. Her husband, Trevor Murry, works as a paramedic for the Clearwater Fire Department, she said. He was on duty Sunday and came to the house to help, she said.

Ehrlich said even though this story has a happy ending, parents need to be careful around pools.

"Never underestimate your children," he said.

Pool safety tips

Never leave children alone in or near the pool, even for a moment.

Make sure adults watching young children in the pool know CPR and can rescue a child if necessary.

Surround your pool -- on all sides -- with a sturdy 5-foot fence.

Make sure the gates self-close and self-latch at a height children can't reach.

Keep rescue equipment (a shepherd's hook -- a long pole with a hook on the end -- and life preserver) and a telephone near the pool.

Avoid inflatable swimming aids such as "floaties." They are not a substitute for approved life vests and can give children a false sense of security.

-- Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

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