SUMTER, S.C. — Steven Phillips has a lot on his plate for a 19-year-old man.
He’s a committed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a part-time job and is planning to head off to Brazil in July for two years on his church mission. And in the past two years, he had to earn 21 merit badges to become an Eagle Scout for everything from camping and communications to personal fitness and management.
It was his faith and the training in first aid and lifesaving that he used on April 24 to save the life of his 4-year-old brother, Frank. The rambunctious and curious youngster — the youngest of Jeff and Regina Phillips’ 10 children — accidentally fell into the family pond behind their home in Sumter as Steven worked in the family’s backyard garden.
“My brother and sisters were out playing,” Steven said. “I was hoeing out some rows, and the little girls were playing in this stream that comes behind the pond. Frank wasn’t with them. Normally it wouldn’t have bothered me, but he goes everywhere around here.”
Steven searched the backyard, but soon turned his attention to the family’s 40-by-40 feet pond.
“It’s not really that deep,” said Regina. “But it’s rained a lot, so the water would go over (Frank’s) head in the middle out where the dock is.”
Steven said he saw a toy out in the water, and he was “sure he was in the water by then.”
“I laid down on the dock and put my hand in the water,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything. Then I just felt like I needed to put my hand in right then. As soon as I put my hand in, I pulled out his foot. I took him to the bank.”
Frank was grayish-blue, and Steven knew he needed to act fast. A devout church member, he gave his youngest sibling a blessing.
“We believe in the priesthood and how when Jesus was here he gave his Apostles the ability to work miracles in his name,” Steven said. “We believe that power is now on the earth again. I put my hands on his head and gave him a blessing. As soon as I said the words ‘be healed,’ he took a breath.”
Steven didn’t stop with the blessing. He started CPR, training he received as a Scout, and waited until he saw Frank breathe.
“When he threw up, I knew he was more stable and able to breathe on his own a bit better,” Steven said. The elder brother then took the younger inside and told his mom to call 911.
“I put him on his side to help him throw up, and I knew we needed to get him warm and do all these other things,” Steven said. “Pretty soon after that, there were firefighters.”
Regina said that some volunteers who heard dispatchers take her call arrived at the home within a minute of her phone call. She said her “adrenaline was going, but (she) wasn’t hysterical.”
“When Steven came in and told me to call 911, I looked at him and said, ‘Did you give him a blessing?’ The minute he said he did, I felt peace,” Regina said.
Frank was taken to Tuomey Regional Medical Center initially, where he cried for his mother.
“The nurse was humming a hymn, ‘How Great Thou Art,’” Regina said. “I was so thankful for that kindness that she showed.”
Jeff and Regina said similar kindness came from their church family, neighbors and other strangers.
“You know when we moved here four years ago, we really felt like this was home,” Jeff said. “So when I retired (two years ago), we decided to stay in this area.”
The couple says their faith got them through the ordeal. Frank returned home from the hospital two days after the incident. His doctor said there should be little to no long-term effects from the near-drowning. Regina said he does get headaches when he exerts himself too much. Doctors and nurses aren’t sure exactly how much water Frank aspirated when he fell in the pond.
“His doctor was surprised he was home so soon,” Regina said. “I think all the medical personnel were a bit surprised at how good he did.”
Frank was busy playing on Monday afternoon as Regina and Jeff talked about their sons’ harrowing experience. He said he feels fine now. Steven, however, said he has had some trouble sleeping.
“I think I was in shock after the whole thing,” he said. “I’m just glad that I listened to the spirit telling me what to do. I’m glad he’s OK.”