As a parent, drowning is one of my top fears. It takes years before kids can learn to successfully swim, years of parenting paranoia where you watch your child like a hawk at the community pool and in the bathtub. This astonishing story is one that every anxious parent needs to hear: A 22-month-old boy defied the odds after he was pulled out of an icy Pennsylvania creek.
While playing outside with two of his brothers, the unthinkable happened: On March 11, Gardell Martin fell into a nearby stream on his family’s five-acre property outside of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania. Gardell was found a quarter-mile away a half hour later by a neighbor in a search party. The lifeless toddler was caught in a tree branch with icy water from the creek rushing all around him.
Thankfully, help was already on the way. An ambulance crew arrived within moments after Gardell was pulled from the 34-degree water. When the paramedics couldn’t find a pulse, they started CPR and continued without interruption for a total of 101 minutes. CPR lasted through the ambulance ride, at the community hospital, on board a medical helicopter and into the Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital’s emergency room, where a pediatric ICU staff awaited his arrival.
According to Dr. Richard Lambert, Geisinger Pediatric Critical Care Physician, “He was dead.”
Lambert explained, “He did not have a pulse, and he wasn’t breathing on his own and he had no neurologic function. All of those things were being done for him… the CPR and the breathing that was being done through the E-T tube.”
How did this child make a full recovery after being technically dead for an hour and 41 minutes? Was it a miracle? Was it science? Depending on who you ask, the answer may be a little bit of both.
Gardell’s family prayed, and the doctors worked. Geisinger Director of Pediatric Intensive Care Dr. Frank Maffei said that, in this case, Gardell’s dramatically low body temperature at 75 degrees, 25 degrees below normal, was actually a good thing. A lowered temperature put the toddler’s body into a hypothermic-like state that gave him a second chance at life.
The medical team warmed Gardell’s body as CPR continued, and his pulse returned at around 82 degrees. Though there is a medical explanation for the toddler’s recovery, doctors say that this case is one for the record books. Dr. Maffei said that he had never seen a child in northern Pennsylvania survive without a pulse for this long before. As for Gardell, the boy was released from the hospital, and doctors believe he has made a full recovery.
For every negative and horrifying parenting story you hear in the news, there’s at least one positive story to put in your back pocket. The next time you find yourself worrying about how you could possibly protect your child every second of the day, just remember Gardell. Some stories do have a happy ending.