TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — When a summer pool party became a life or death situation for a 6-year-old boy, two Airmen from Travis Air Force Base, California, used their military training to save his life.
"It was the worst and best day of my life," said Staff Sgt. Edgar Hooks, 60th Maintenance Squadron avionics technician.
On Aug. 16, seven adults and four children were enjoying a sunny day by the pool in Vacaville, California, when they heard a cry for help.
"I looked into the pool and saw the shape of the boy at the bottom of the deep end," said Staff Sgt. Sean Richardson, 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron transmission systems supervisor. "I don't remember really thinking anything; I just automatically jumped in and lifted him out. There wasn't time to think about it."
Kristine, mother of 6-year-old Ben, had purchased life vests for the children that day. She did a quick head count and didn't see her eldest child, who had taken off his life vest.
"I saw something blurry ten feet under water," she said. "I jumped in, I'm not a confident swimmer and I remember thinking, 'How am I going to swim 10 feet fast enough to get him?' I started yelling for help."
After being retrieved, Ben was laid on the edge of the pool.
"I'm expecting him to cough and that will be the end of it but he didn't," Hooks said. "This kid was blue; his eyes were facing different directions and he didn't have pulse. As soon as I saw that he wasn't responding, I laid him on his side to see if he would respond and nothing happened. I told his mom to call 9-1-1."
While Kristine dialed 9-1-1, Hooks' self-aid and buddy care and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training kicked in and he began chest compressions.
"I've never given chest compressions on a real person before," he said. "My heart's pumping and I know I need to get the compressions at a good rhythm. I'm talking to him and trying to bring him back. When a little bit of fluid came up, I knew that was a good sign but the fight wasn't over."
Hooks continued doing compressions until Ben coughed up more fluid.
"I felt his heart kick back in; It was like, 'boom,'" he said. "His eyes started facing the same direction again but I don't think he could see me because he looked right through me. He took a few shallow breaths and said, 'Mama.'"
Hooks picked Ben up and cradled him just in time to see the Vacaville Firemen coming across the yard.
"At that moment, Ben purged a large amount of fluid down my back," he said. "Some people may think that is the grossest thing ever, but I thought it was the greatest thing ever. That's when I was hopeful and realized that everything was going to be OK."
After being taken by ambulance to Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville, Ben was issued a clean bill of health and released.
"I visited him the next day and you would've never known anything happened," Hooks said. "He's so resilient. He gave me a Rice Krispies treat and a hug."
Kristine expressed her gratitude to the Airmen.
"I am very thankful for them," she said. "I don't know what the outcome would've been without them. In my family's eyes, they are my son's heroes."
The quick response of both Airmen contributed to the outcome of that fateful day.
"Hooks did exactly what he was supposed to do and he saved that boy's life," Richardson said. "It was a traumatic situation for everyone, but he maintained his calm and performed CPR flawlessly. Though it was a regrettable situation, it's good to see our Air Force CPR and readiness training directly contributes to ensuring that a life and death event ends well."
That day, the children had life vests and the parents were sitting right next to the pool. Even with those safety precautions, accidents can happen. It takes a matter of seconds for someone to drown.
Approximately one in five people who die from drowning are children younger than age 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Being CPR certified and practicing water safety awareness are the best ways to be prepared for accidents.
For more information about CPR training or support life training, check with your individual unit training manager.