The screams came as two Muskegon Community College nursing instructors were doing a late-night workout at a hotel in Livonia, Mich. last Friday.
“A kid came running down the hallway, yelling, ‘There’s a baby in the bottom of the pool,’” Amy Herrington, an MCC nursing faculty member who was in Livonia for the annual Michigan Nursing Student Association Convention, said in a news release.
Immediately, Herrington and Yolanda Burris, a fellow MCC nursing faculty member who was also attending the convention, ran from the gym to the pool.
There, the two women, both registered nurses, saw every parent’s nightmare: a toddler now lying motionless on the pool deck. Herrington, herself a mother of two small children, began chest compressions; between sets of compressions Burris would breathe into the boy’s mouth. As the two nurses worked to resuscitate the child, named K.J., Jennifer Vannortwick, an MCC nursing student who has emergency room experience, contacted 911 while the other two MCC nursing students at the convention, Bailee Gorecki and Brittany Johnson, kept a clear path in the hotel hallway for the soon-to-arrive EMS personnel.
“People were yelling, crying and screaming, so our students were instrumental in getting people to move away from the scene,” Burris said in the same news release.
While it was only a matter of minutes that the two instructors were with the toddler, the two said it felt like an eternity—at one point, Burris said they “didn’t think he was going to come back.”
“We didn’t hear any breathing,” Burris said. “He wasn’t responding. He wasn’t doing anything, and I could hear Amy’s voice increasing.”
“I remember thinking, ‘If this kid is not OK, then I am never going to be OK,’” Herrington said.
While the two nurses are used to their high-pressure, life-saving jobs, they’ve also typically been surrounded by an entire healthcare team and the necessary equipment when responding to an emergency. This time, “it was just us,” Burris said.
“People were depending upon us, especially K.J.,” Burris said. “People were running around, screaming. Finally everything got under control. You could feel they were looking at us to bring this child back.”
“I have never prayed more in such a short time,” Herrington added.
Then, as Burris was in the middle of doing compressions, the K.J.’s eyes opened.
The toddler began breathing and his faint whimpering turned into full-on cries.
The “mama bear in me just went into effect” and “I knew he needed a hug,” Herrington said. “He cried for a minute, so that’s when I turned so he could see his mom.”
After the paramedics arrived and took the boy to the hospital, the two nurses went back to their hotel rooms and broke down in tears.
The day after the incident, the nursing instructors received a text message from K.J.’s mother.
“I just wanted to thank you and your friend and co-worker so much,” the mother wrote. ”I wish I could hug you both a million times because I thank you a million times more. You both forever will be our gift from God at a very dark moment. I believe God makes no mistakes, and he sent his two angels on earth to save my son. I truly, truly thank you ladies with everything within me for saving my baby’s life.”
Now, the two women are deservedly being called heroes—though they emphasized they’re not comfortable with the term.
“People are calling us heroes; I don’t feel like it’s anything that I have done,” Burris said. “I did what we were trained to do, what I learned to do. I never thought in a million years we would put it into action on a two-year old baby. To be honest with you, I really and truly believe it’s a miracle from God.”
“I feel like [God] gives us the gifts and the qualities that we pass on to other people,” she said. “He put us there because he knew we could do it. There are a lot of things that led us to being at that spot.”