LILBURN, Ga. — When she heard the scream coming from the backyard, Jeanie Castillo knew something was seriously wrong.
As the 16-year-old Mormon and others hurried to the side of a pool, they found Jeanie's little brother with Down syndrome floating lifelessly in the water. He had no pulse.
The stressful and miraculous events that followed the terrifying discovery unified the Honduran family and strengthened the testimonies of many.
"The incredible part of the whole thing was how everyone came together," said Castillo, now 17.
Where is Jason?
The date was Oct. 9, 2009, and the Castillo family was visiting at the home of a friend. Parents and kids were having fun in different rooms doing different things when someone asked, "Where is Jason?"
Rigoberto, Jeanie's father, felt impressed to check the pool. That's when he found Jason, his 6-year-old son, floating face up in the water. No one knew how long he had been there.
The little boy was quickly pulled from the water where his father gave him a Priesthood blessing.
As someone called 911, Jeanie said something came over her. Into her mind flashed the steps for administering CPR that she had learned a few months earlier at Young Women camp.
The big sister said a silent prayer and with urgency that still surprises her, she went to work.
"I never thought that Jason was dead or going to die. I knew in my heart it wouldn't happen," Jeanie said. "My Heavenly Father helped me."
After what seemed like an eternity, the ambulance arrived. Jason now had a "weak" pulse. He was taken to the hospital where he remained in critical condition.
When the sirens were gone, all the family could do was pray.
At some point, Jason slipped into a coma. With his lungs full of water, he needed help from artificial sources to breathe. A maze of wires and tubes connected him to machines that sustained life for the next few weeks while doctors labored to help his body heal.
As news of Jason's misfortune spread, family, friends, neighbors and church members from various locations around the world began to fast and pray with the family. Relatives and friends around the country, Canada, Australia and Honduras offered their support.
It was an especially stressful time for Jeanie's parents. Her father was jobless and times were financially tight. Erenia, her mother, said they survived on prayer and faith.
"It was one of the worst experiences and one of the best at the same time," said Erenia, who spent countless hours at Jason's bedside. "I am glad we belong to the church. This experience helped our testimonies to grow. He (the Lord) was always there for us and I have no doubt he lives and loves us."
With time, Jason's condition improved. Despite the severity of his condition, no evidence of brain damage was found. That was a miracle, the family said.
Another miracle occurred on Nov. 15, Rigoberto's birthday, as Jason opened his eyes and recognized his family. The little boy is considered to be the bright star of the family.
"He was praying that he could see his little boy again and it happened," Jeanie said.
A few weeks later, Jason was released and returned home in time for Christmas, a blessing the family considers the greatest Christmas gift they could ever receive.
Jeanie can only marvel now as she reflects on the past year.
Her experience with her brother, who continues with rehab but is now healthy and happy, taught her many lessons about trusting in the Lord, having faith, the power of the priesthood and being prepared. She is thankful for the opportunity to help her brother but doesn't take credit for saving Jason's life.
"I don't know what I would have done if I had not been a member of the church," she said. "The Lord must have prepared me for what was coming."
A woman named Julia Kilgore heard Jeanie's heroic story and it melted her heart. Kilgore owns "The Yellow Rose Bridal Shop," a business that only sells modest dresses. In 2009, Kilgore started awarding a free dress to a young Hispanic woman who earns a 3.5 GPA or higher and who plans to continue her education after high school.
Kilgore chose Jeanie Castillo as the second recipient of the "Gloria Dress," named after Kilgore's sister, who died in 1986 and lived an inspiring life.
Castillo, a 4.0 student, was honored by her selection. She wore the black and turquoise dress to the Mormon prom. After she graduates from South Gwinnett high school (30 minutes from Atlanta), she plans to attend BYU and study special education.
"She will do well," Kilgore said.
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