SHREVEPORT, La. — It was an ordinary summer day when Shelby Patrick went to a birthday party at East Ridge Country Club.
As the 10-year-old was dropped off, she told her mother the usual “I love you” and her mom, in turn, hugged and kissed the child and said it back.
Less than 15 minutes later, Shelby was fighting for her life after being pulled from the bottom of a pool. It’s unknown how long Shelby spent under the crystal-clear water. When a bystander pulled her out, the child had no pulse. She wasn’t breathing. Remarkably, Shelby survived.
She hasn’t fully recovered, no longer cares much for crowds and must undergo some therapy. Even so, the Shreveporter has bounced back, living the life of a normal girl her age. She skips, she hops and jumps all over again.
Shelby’s mother, Tamika, says her daughter’s survival and recovery is nothing short of a blessing. “God answered a lot of prayers. He kept his hands on Shelby and never let go.”
News of Shelby’s dramatic rescue June 2, 2012, quickly spread across the Shreveport-Bossier City area. It hit local media outlets and flooded social media newsfeeds.
“I don’t know Miss Shelby, but I saw it on Facebook that same day and I immediately started praying,” Shreveporter Tiffany Lane said. “I just couldn’t imagine dealing with that as a mother.”
Emergency responders performed CPR and started an IV. At the hospital, Shelby, the younger of two children, was placed in a medically induced coma.
A few days later, she opened her eyes.
“Seeing her in the hospital at Willis-Knighton, seeing her initially after the accident had happened, that was the most difficult,” Tamika Patrick said. “It was difficult to see her change and not be so much of our Shelby. That was hard to watch because we know her to act a different way than she was behaving.
“At first, she couldn’t do anything on her own. She was a baby all over.”
Shelby spent three weeks at Willis-Knighton South then another two weeks of rehabilitation at Baylor Hospital in Dallas.
She entered the fourth grade last August, celebrating her first day of school. She completed the 2012-13 academic year at South Highlands Elementary Academic and Performing Arts Magnet School in Shreveport and passed the standardized LEAP test to move on to the next grade.
Many wonder if her survival is due to the quick action of the bystanders, CPR or the treatment.
“It’s just blessings after blessings,” her mother said.
“Who would have ever thought that I’d see ‘Pray for Shelby’ across the front page of the newspaper and they were talking about my baby.”
Unintentional submersions hospitalize an estimated 5,000 children age 14 or younger each year, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fifteen percent die in the hospital; and as many as 20 percent suffer severe, permanent neurological disability. It is estimated that for each drowning death, there are many more nonfatal submersions serious enough to require hospitalization.
Shelby doesn’t remember being at the party or getting into the water, Tamika Patrick said. Her parents told her that she nearly drowned.
Shelby has been in a swimming pool only once since June 2, 2012, and that was for therapy.
“She was very excited because she loves water,” her mother said.
“I was nervous and made sure her head didn’t go under. But she was just fine because she doesn’t remember any of it.”
Shelby’s summer vacation agenda includes swimming lessons. “I’m planning to go to Disney World and to California because, after the accident, we didn’t have a good summer,” Shelby said. “I think I’m going to take swimming lessons, but I don’t know if I want to.”
Faith and prayers are what got the family through the tragedy, said Shelby’s aunt Lalita Rogers. She recalls her niece being motionless, with tubes in her face, moments after the child arrived at the hospital.
“It was surreal, it wasn’t our Shelby. It wasn’t our life,” Rogers said.
“But the support we received from the Shreveport/ Bossier community was overwhelming. It let us know there are people out there who are genuine, who are Christians, who believe in prayer and the word of God.
“And we thank them all. We still have Shelby with us today.”
TO SWIM SAFELY
• Take swimming lessons if you don’t know how to swim. Sign your children up for lessons as soon as they are old enough.
• Swim near a lifeguard; never swim alone.
• Don’t drink alcohol if you are swimming or watching children.
• Use floating toys like water wings and noodles for fun — not for safety. Don’t use them in place of life jackets.
• Watch out for rip currents, where the current veers away from shore. If you get caught in one, swim along the shoreline until you are out of the current, then swim to shore.
• Watch children carefully.
• Make sure at least one adult is watching when children are near or in the water.
• Don’t read or use the phone while watching young children.
• Watch every child in the water — even those who can swim.
• If you have a pool, install four-sided fencing that’s at least 4 feet high and separates the pool from the house or yard. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward and are out of reach of children.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services