Michelle Funk was only left alone for a few minutes that day in June 1986. It was long enough. She fell into the icy, runoff swollen waters of Bell Canyon Creek, which winds through southeast Salt Lake County near her parent's home.
Sixty-six minutes later, when a diver pulled Michelle from the creek approximately 150 feet from where she had fallen in, she was lifeless, her small body frozen by the 40-degree water.It was the icy temperature of the water, along with its cleanliness, that allowed Michelle to be saved by doctors at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Today, Michelle is a normal 5 year old, and shows no signs of her traumatic experience.
And, because of her, Utah doctors are better able to help save the lives of other near-drowning victims, according to Dr. Dean Shelton, assistant director of the emergency center at American Fork Hospital.
"Because of her we have a whole new protocol for treating drownings in the emergency room," Shelton said.
Michelle's treatment primarily consisted of being placed on a heart/lung bypass pump, which allowed her body temperature to be increased fairly rapidly.
At American Fork Hospital, when a near-drowning victim is brought in with a body temperature below 82 degrees, he or she is quickly airlifted to a facility with a heart/lung bypass pump, and given treatment similar to that Michelle Funk received, Shelton said.
But, the sophisticated techniques and procedures don't help if a near-drowning victim hasn't received basic lifesaving help at the scene of an accident.
"I don't pronounce anyone dead from cold water drownings (water temperature between 41 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit) until they have a body temperature of 98 degrees and they are still not responding," Shelton said. "There is always a chance that they have been cold so long, their body metabolism needs may be very low.
"I tell people just do something, just breathe in their mouths and push on their chests. Just don't stand their and watch these little ones die."
Shelton said bystanders should use a branch or other object to pull someone out of the water, rather than diving in after them.
"Bystanders, instead of thinking for a second how to save the person, often jump in, and then I'll have two victims instead of one," Shelton said.
After pulling someone from the water, the airway should be cleared and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions, if needed, begun.
It is common for a person being given cardiopulmonary resuscitation to throw up; invariably, resuscitation efforts stop. "That is the biggest mistake they could make," Shelton said. "They should clean it up and continue."
Then, activate the emergency services system and take steps to protect the victim from the elements, Shelton said.
Each year, more than 8,000 people drown in the United States out of an estimated 80,000 near-drowning incidents. American Fork Hospital averages three to four drowning victims per year.
"Most of the drownings we have fall in the same category," Shelton said. "There are two (age) peaks at which they occur - 18 months and 18 years."
With adult males, dares or alcohol are usually involved in the drownings, Shelton said. Drownings involving toddlers usually involve lack of supervision, inadequate barriers and child abuse.
Irrigation and drainage canals and streams near homes are the most frequent sites of drownings in Utah.
Prevent water tragedies
How you cn prevent drowning accidents:
-Fence swimming pools, irrigation ditches and canals. When not in use, hot tubs and swimming pools should be covered.
-Remember: alcohol and water don't mix.
-Don't go swimming or fishing alone in isolated areas.
-Have children wear life jackets when fishing along the banks of streams and rivers.
-Wear a life jacket when on a boat. Children should wear life jackets that fit properly and that are constructed to hold their heads upright.
-Supervise toddlers at all times when near water.