The mother of a St. Augustine toddler who nearly drowned three weeks ago is speaking out about her amazing recovery, calling it nothing short of "a miracle."
Two-year old Dixie Wallace was pulled from a retention pond behind her grandmother's home in late January.
Family members say she was blue and unresponsive. Less than a week later, her doctors said she had made a full recovery and was back home with her family.
It was Dixie's uncle who found and pulled her from a retention pond outside of her grandmother's home. Her mother Tiffany O'Sickey was woken up by all the chaos.
"She was blue. She was not responding," recalled O'Sickey. "My mom told me she did not even have a heartbeat. So she was pretty much gone at that time,"
CPR was started immediately, first by relatives at the home, then continued by sheriff's deputies and paramedics with St. Johns County Fire Rescue. All worked tirelessly to revive her.
Corporal Coby Seckinger with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office says he was thinking about his own child as he performed CPR.
"My daughter is the exact same age. It was, I remember talking, I remember calling her 'princess'. I kept seeing my little girl through her," explained Seckinger.
O'Sickey recalls those terrifying moments as she watched the team try to save her daughter's life.
"The only thing I could do was scream, call her name, and tell God that he's not allowed to have her right now. She has to come back to me," said O'Sickey.
Paramedics rushed Dixie to nearby Flagler Hospital, then later to Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville. She was sedated and put on a breathing machine. Without knowing for sure how long she was in the water, doctors had to closely monitor her brain activity.
Doctors say drowning is the second leading cause of non-intentional deaths in children ages 1 through 14.
Drownings can occur in bathtubs, sinks, toilets, and buckets. Even just one inch of water.
Dr. Michael Gayle with the Pediatric Critical Care Unit at Wolfson Children's Hospital treated Dixie during her recovery. He says in about 25 percent of all near-drowning cases, there is some kind of brain damage. He says the first few days are crucial and keeping the brain relaxed is critical in allowing it to heal.
"We want to keep the brain as quiet as possible. We don't want the brain to be very active and providing sedation keeps the brain cells working less than they would normally work," explained Gayle.
On the first day, Dixie's breathing started to improve. By day two, she was breathing on her own. After four days, she was taken off the ventilator. Then, six days after she nearly drowned, Dixie was well enough to go home.
"We know that if a patient is under water under five minutes, or rather, over five minutes, their chance of recovery is very poor," said Dr. Gayle.
Her mother says Dixie is her usual self, all smiles as she plays hide and seek at home. Her doctors say her outcome could have been entirely different. They credit her amazing recovery to what’s called bystander CPR, someone who’s able to get CPR started while paramedics are on the way.
"The care she got at the site was really what made her recovery so miraculous, if I can use the word," said Gayle.
Through this experience, Dixie's mother hopes sharing her daughter's story will inspire other parents and relatives to learn CPR.
"That way you can be certified and you can start CPR immediately, which is what needs to be done in a situation like hers. CPR needed to be done immediately and I'm so glad my mom was there," said O'Sickey.
O'Sickey is certain of one thing, she's very thankful her daughter is still here. The little girl she calls her "miracle baby".
"She is something special. I don't know what she's here to do, but apparently it's going to be big. She wouldn't be here right now if she wasn't. I'm just waiting to see what her life brings her," said O'Sickey.
To learn more about CPR training classes, you can go to Safety First CPR and Safety Training at safetyfirstjax.com.