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Child rebounds from near-drowning

The parents will soon celebrate the second birthday of their son, rescued from a lake.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 25, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- A little more than a week ago, Matthew and Edna Hogan faced a holiday horror: Their only child, blue and not breathing, had been pulled from a Pasco County lake and rushed to the hospital, where they found him wired to life-saving equipment.

But the spirit of Christmas intervened a few days early in the lives of the Land O'Lakes couple. On Friday, their 1-year-old son, Austin, beamed a healthy pink as he dashed across his back yard in the Sable Ridge neighborhood.

What a change from the unconscious child, his skin blue and clammy from oxygen deprivation, that his parents despaired over at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Austin's resilience in the face of his near-death experience has surprised even his family.

"Right when we brought him home, we gave him a bath," Edna Hogan said from beside the family Christmas tree on Friday. "He was excited and said, "Water!' and splashed like nothing had happened."

The Hogans got word of the accident while working the morning of Dec. 14at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel. Edna is a food server; Matt, a pool maintenance worker.

They were called to the office. Waiting for them was a Pasco County sheriff's deputy.

Dispatched to the home of Austin's babysitter on Dupree Drive, deputies had found Austin floating face-down in the backyard lake.

His heart had stopped beating.

Two deputies, Mark Moe and Terry Putnam, pulled Austin from the cold water, about 15 feet from the shore, and restored shallow breathing through CPR.

Land O'Lakes firefighters arrived to continue the resuscitation. A rescue helicopter whooshed Austin to Tampa.

Moe, a 17-year sheriff's office veteran, won a life-saving award last year for stanching the blood from a knife wound on a Wesley Chapel man. But Austin's rescue was his first of a child.

"My son is the same age, 28 days older than Austin," Moe said. "You say to yourself: "This child is not going to die.' "

He added: "That's like the ultimate high -- to know that you saved a child."

After hearing the news at work, the Hogans had jumped into their car for the trip to St. Joseph's. They were so shaken that the normally half-hour trip took more than an hour.

"I wanted to die," Edna Hogan said. "I couldn't think."

They found their son attached to tubes and a special warming blanket that reheated his body after the cold lake plunge. Doctors told them their son's system had shut down but was slowly reviving.

At 11 that night, Austin regained consciousness. Matt Hogan spent most of the night standing beside the bed, holding his son's hand. Edna Hogan caught some sleep on a hospital couch.

The next morning, Austin starting talking. The worst was over.

"Nobody knew how long he had been in the water," Edna Hogan said. "They didn't know if there was going to be any brain damage."

The family said it doesn't blame the babysitter.

Zahira Gibson, whose husband is a sheriff's deputy, was babysitting Austin and her three children. Gibson told deputies she ran to the store for milk and left her mother, Iris Baez, in charge.

Baez said she left the four children playing in a backyard play area while she checked laundry. Austin escaped by removing a chair blocking the gate.

It will be a while before Edna Hogan trusts others to watch her son. She has rearranged her schedule to work evenings.

"No more babysitting for a long time," she said.

Because Austin is an energetic toddler, the family had installed child-proof door knobs in their house before the near-drowning.

On Friday, three Christmas stockings, stitched with the names Matt, Edna and Austin, hung from the family grandfather clock.

A sketch pad toy, a gift from Deputy Moe, sat on the family coffee table.

Moe also gave the boy, whom he dubbed "Curious George" for getting himself into the lake predicament, a golden guardian angel pin.

"He's definitely got a guardian angle looking out for him," Moe said.

Two big days loom for the family, Christmas and Austin's second birthday on Dec. 30. Any special plans for the Hogans?

A big smile illuminates Edna Hogan's face: "Every day's special now."

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