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First aid

Updated 16 July 2019

3-year-old Gauteng toddler’s miraculous recovery after heart stops for 20 minutes

It’s every parent’s nightmare – finding the lifeless body of your child floating in the pool.

It’s every parent’s nightmare: finding the lifeless body of your child floating in the pool.

That’s exactly what happened to Louwrika (37) and Bradley Snow (38), from Vereeniging in Gauteng, two months ago. But thankfully for them, their little boy, Liam (3), survived and has recovered remarkably.

The toddler had no pulse for 20 minutes and wasn’t breathing “for an eternity”.

But thanks to Bradley’s quick thinking and decisive action, their little boy is alive today.

“It was a Sunday. My parents had been visiting from the Free Stat and they left around 3pm that afternoon. My husband and I had just walked in and sat down – the lounge looks out on the pool. It’s a large window and there aren’t any curtains, so you have a clear view of the pool,” Louwrika tells YOU.

The gate to the swimming pool, which is fenced off, was open. “We’d just sat down when our daughter, Kaitlyn (5), came into the lounge asking where Liam was. Bradly and I immediately jumped up and as I came running out of the house, I immediately saw him – floating on the water in his orange underpants. When I pulled him out, Bradley immediately started CPR. I was screaming.”

Bradley had done a first-aid course years ago. “I was just screaming and screaming,” Louwrika recalls. “I tried calling the ambulance but couldn’t get through. Our neighbours on both sides heard the commotion and came running.

“While I was struggling to open the gate for them, Bradley kept performing CPR. That’s when our one neighbour said we couldn’t wait for an ambulance and took us to the Midvaal Private Hospital [in Vereeniging],” she says.

Liam had started turning blue and Louwrika and Bradley started preparing themselves for the worst.

“There were no signs of life. By the time we got to hospital, Bradley had been struggling for longer than 10 minutes to revive him.”

Hospital records show doctors struggled for another 12 minutes to get a heartbeat.

Dr Tanja Nell, an internist, was about to declare Liam dead when the near-impossible happened.

“When I got there, he didn’t look good at all. I called another doctor to consult because I don’t often work with drownings. We kept his body temperature low – and then we got a pulse,” says Dr Nell, who has a three-year-old son of her own.

Liam Snow

“Bradley and I just kept praying in the hallway. He said to me and Kaitlyn, ‘Now it’s just the three of us.’ Then Dr Nel came out and said Liam has a heartbeat,” Louwrika recalls.

But Liam wasn’t out of danger. He was airlifted to the Garden City Hospital in Johannesburg where a team of paediatric specialists were waiting.

“Once the helicopter had taken off, the ER team sat down and cried together. Then we went on with our work,” Dr Nell says.

Louwrika says they followed Liam to the Garden City Hospital. “Our neighbours Paddy Rogan and Deon van den Berg were just incredible. They realised we were in no state to be driving so they took us from Vereeniging to Johannesburg.

At Garden City, doctors lowered Liam’s body temperature further to prevent brain damage. “They wrapped him in a bubble-wrap blanket to keep his body temperature at a steady 34°C.”

Liam was kept in a medically induced coma for five days. On the sixth day, he opened his eyes and tried to move. At that stage, the Snow family still didn’t know if he’d suffered brain damage.

“I was just relieved he’s alive. With each passing day I can see how he’s getting better. Two weeks after the incident, Liam walked out of hospital with us.”

Liam Snow and family

The little boy has completely recovered, his mom says. “He has no brain damage. We took him to speech and occupational therapy as well as physio and everyone’s confirmed he’s fine.”

Liam has also been to see Dr Nell at her practice to say thank you.

“When he walked in, I burst into tears. It’s so rare for a child to recover so completely after a near-drowning,” Dr Nell says.

The whole family has been to trauma counselling. “Kaitlyn’s having the hardest time because she’d stood next to Bradley when Liam was blue in the face. When Liam got home [from hospital] she said to him, ‘Don’t go to sleep in the swimming pool again, boetie’.”

Where before, they’d only waved to their neighbours in passing, Louwrika says they’ve now built a close relationship.

She still finds it hard to believe their little boy is unharmed.

“Sometimes, Bradley and I will share a look and a smile when he does something naughty or cute. We keep wanting to pinch ourselves to make sure it’s true. We very nearly were a family of just three.”

Image credit: Supplied