SC paramedic resuscitates drowned baby from pool
The former Army medic worked on the toddler for 10 minutes before getting a pulse
By Nikie Mayo
The Anderson Independent Mail
ANDERSON, S.C. — The baby was gray.
Her belly was misshapen, a sign that she had swallowed a lot of water.
Ted Westmoreland knew she had been at the bottom of the pool for at least 10 minutes. She had no pulse.
With years of training in the Army and as a medic, he knew he had to move fast.
"If this had been a mass casualty event, I probably would have had to walk past her," he said. "She had been down for a while and there were no signs of life. But it wasn't a mass casualty. It was just one little girl. So I tried. I tried over and over."
Called into action
Just a few moments before, Westmoreland, a part-time Anderson County paramedic, had been enjoying a vacation with his family in Surfside Beach.
The town on the Grand Strand is nicknamed "the family beach." The Westmoreland clan was staying in a beachfront property surrounded by other families renting similar spaces.
Westmoreland's family heard a commotion next door. Two women were looking for a 1-year-old girl who wandered away from their rental house. They found little Avianna Norris at the bottom of a private pool.
Westmoreland's family told him what was happening. He sprinted next door and climbed a wall to get onto a deck and into the pool.
But as he clutched her body, Westmoreland felt hope slipping away from him.
"When children panic, they swallow a lot of air or water," he said. "She had swallowed two pints easy, maybe more, in a matter of seconds. Little bodies don't recover from that."
Her skin was "ashen gray," he recalled. When he checked her brown eyes, they were still.
He started compressions on her body, and water began pouring out of her mouth and nose.
"It was like someone had turned on a faucet," he said.
He estimates that he worked on Avianna for 10 minutes before her pulse returned.
"When she took a breath, it startled me," Westmoreland said. "I never expected that."
'Definitely a miracle'
First responders from Surfside Beach raced through heavy traffic to get to the scene.
"I'm very proud of everyone involved," said Surfside Beach Police Chief Rodney Keziah. "But there is no doubt in my mind that, were it not for Mr. Westmoreland, this child would have died. He acted during critical moments to save this baby."
Patrol officer Kimberly Decker of the Surfside Beach Police Department was the first to take over for Westmoreland.
"It seemed like forever that I was trying to help her, but looking back on it now, I know it was just a few minutes," Decker said. "In cases involving children, especially, it is more than just your instinct as an officer that you use. My instincts as a mother kicked in."
Avianna was taken by helicopter to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Westmoreland, 48, left his contact information in a note on the door of her family's rental house. He has two children of his own. But Westmoreland wondered if he would ever know what happened to the baby girl.
About 24 hours after Avianna had been taken out of the pool, Westmoreland got a text message from one of her relatives. Doctors had taken her off a ventilator.
"That's usually not a good sign," Westmoreland said. "I have seen more near drownings than I can count, and this child had everything bad happen to her that could have. When I saw that message, my first thought was that everything was over, that she would soon be gone."
It turns out he was wrong.
Avianna's aunt had been singing to her in the hospital.
Before falling into the pool, she was known to be a very active child. She walked well for her age. And when she heard songs, she would always dance.
In her hospital bed, Avianna started dancing.
Days later, Avianna was released from the hospital. She shows no signs of brain damage, Westmoreland said.
"She is going to be in charge of something," he said. "There is nothing in what happened to her that says she should have survived. But she did. It is definitely a miracle."
More than a month has passed since Avianna's limp body was discovered June 23 at the bottom of the pool. By all accounts, she has recovered.
"We knew God had showed us she was going to be OK and she is," Avianna's grandmother, Dama Doyle, said Monday. "She is moving around, laughing and dancing. She is our miracle."
Last week, Westmoreland was honored by the Surfside Beach Town Council. He was given a meritorious service award, " for performance above and beyond the call of duty" and for "supporting the successful rescue and resuscitation of an infant who was a near drowning victim."
Scott Stoller, Anderson County's director of emergency medical services, has worked alongside Westmoreland for about seven years.
"There are so many times that our paramedics do really heroic things and we can't talk about them because of health regulations," Stoller said. "In this case, we are glad something was made public so we can say how proud we are. He is a good man who did a good thing. Because he stepped up, he changed a life. That little girl has a future because he stepped up."
Copyright 2016 the Anderson Independent Mail