Ozark County rescuers resuscitate toddler after submersion in bathtub
Eleven-month-old Jayden Moody drowned Saturday afternoon in his Tecumseh-area home. But six Ozark County men pulled him back from the brink of death.
Jayden’s heroic first responders then sent him on to subsequent teams of rescuers in two hospitals and a Survival Flight aircraft.
Tecumseh Volunteer Fire Department firefighter and first responder Stephen Ator, who’s also a reserve deputy with the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department, was on his way home from sheriff’s department pistol training Saturday when he happened to come upon Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper John Roberts in his patrol vehicle as both men drove east from Gainesville on Highway 160, heading to their homes in the Tecumseh area.
“John turned off toward his house, and I gave him a wave and went on my way,” Ator said.
A minute or so later, Roberts pulled into his home driveway. “I was just stopping by to see my kids,” he said. But before he had a chance to say hello to his 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, a call came on the radio that another 1-year-old had fallen into a bathtub and was barely breathing.
“I just backed right back out of the driveway and took off,” Roberts said.
The call was dispatched at 2:17 p.m., according to the sheriff’s department call log.
Ator heard the radio call too, as did Tecumseh VFD first responder J. B. Duke, working in his mechanics shop east of Lake Norfork, and Lick Creek VFD first responder James Walley. Also hearing the call, EMT Brian Morgan and paramedic Chris Bogowith, on duty at Ozark County Ambulance, immediately headed out the door.
From wherever they were, Jayden’s rescuers rushed to get to his home near the top of the Tecumseh curves.
‘His lips were blue’
Ator and Roberts were the closest. In fact, Ator was probably just a minute or two away but didn’t know it. Michelle Moody had given the dispatcher their address on Sanders Lane, off Highway 160. But there’s no road sign marking Sanders Lane, so both Ator and Roberts drove right past Jayden’s home without finding it.
“I got a more definite location from dispatch and got to the bottom of the Tecumseh curves and turned around,” Ator said. Roberts did the same thing, making a U-turn at the bottom of the curves.
Then, a short way past the top of the curves, Ator spotted some kids out by the road, waving their arms to flag him down. He pulled in and braked to a stop.
“The parents came out with the little fella in their arms. They had him in a blanket,” Ator said. “He was unresponsive, and he had heavy, heavy congestion. He was blue-tinged, his lips were blue and he was really struggling to breathe.”
Roberts pulled in a few seconds behind Ator. The two men carried the baby to Ator’s pickup, laid him on the backseat on his right side and quickly began working on him to expel the water.
“We were patting his back, whacking him as much as we could. I knew we had to get the water out,” Ator said. “You could hear it in him. He’d been under water. He had drowned. And all the time I was praying that the ambulance would get there soon.”
Air Evac was called but declined due to Saturday’s inclement weather.
J.B. Duke arrived with an infant-size non-rebreather device and an oxygen bottle – part of the life-saving equipment he always carries in his truck and uses “more often than you would think,” he said. He joined Ator and Roberts in the truck. “I started taking vitals and put the O2 monitor on his ear,” Duke said.
Ator held the small mask “a quarter-inch or so” from Jayden’s face. “I wanted to get the oxygen to him but not scare him worse by sticking the thing on his face,” he said.
Roberts, assigned to the MSHP Water Division, told the Times they didn’t do CPR. “We did life-saving measures,” he said. “With a drowning victim, there are different avenues we take, trying to get the unresponsive person back. Someone who’s been underwater, you don’t want to try to blow in their mouth because that can just push the water down further.”
Ator called their work a “drowning rescue.”
Of the four first responders who arrived individually, Lick Creek VFD first responder James Walley’s arrival time on scene is the only one recorded on the sheriff’s call log. He got there at 2:28 p.m., 11 minutes after the call went out. Lick Creek VFD hadn’t been dispatched, but Walley was nearby when he heard the call, and he, too, rushed to help.
Music to his rescuers’ ears
Ator’s prayers were answered, and Morgan and Bogowith arrived in the ambulance just about the time Ator, Roberts and Duke heard the first encouraging sounds from the baby. “We got him to cry, and that was good, but we couldn’t get him to holler. That’s a real good sign, when they can holler,” Duke said.
At 2:35 p.m., 18 minutes after the call, the ambulance, with Morgan driving, was in route to Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Arkansas, with Jayden held in the arms of his terrified mother, Michelle Moody. Paramedic Bogowith asked Walley to ride along and assist him so that, if Jayden’s condition changed and another set of hands was needed, Morgan wouldn’t have to stop the ambulance to help.
The two men continued to work with the baby to get the water out of his lungs and help him breathe as the ambulance raced over the hilly, curvy road toward the hospital. The ambulance would arrive at BRMC at 2:59 p.m., making the 31-mile trip from Jayden’s home in 24 minutes.
“We set up the monitors and got his temperature up,” Walley said. “His breathing got better. And by the time we got to Pigeon Creek, he’d started screaming.”
The baby’s boisterous cries were music to his rescuer’s ears.
But Jayden still wasn’t out of danger.
Medical personnel at BRMC “worked on him a long time to get him ready to be transported to Springfield,” Michelle Moody said. “They said he had seizures while they were working on him.”
Those seizures caused worry that Jayden might have brain damage.
Air Evac’s helicopters still couldn’t fly, due to the bad weather, so Jayden was flown to Springfield by Survival Flight, which, according to its website, operates Pilatus PC-12 aircraft that can fly when helicopters can’t. Jayden and his mom were taken to the Baxter County Airport in Midway, Arkansas, for the fixed-wing flight to the Springfield airport and then another ambulance ride to Mercy Hospital.
The medical team at Mercy treated Jayden for a “submersive illness,” she said. “Somehow food particles wound up in his lungs. They didn’t know if he had food in his mouth when he went into the tub or if he threw up” and then aspirated it, she said.
She stayed with Jayden constantly. “The longest I left him was to go to Ronald McDonald house to shower,” she said.
Before they were discharged to come home Monday afternoon, Jayden’s mom and dad, Madison Trott, got some great news: no brain damage. “I’m so, so thankful,” she said.
The incident began Saturday afternoon when Michelle and Madison were doing some clean-up work around their house, burning trash in a bonfire outside, and the three older kids – Wyatt, 11; Silas, 8; and Zoe, 6 – were watching cartoons in the living room, and Jayden, who has just started to pull up and take a few steps, was crawling around among his mom and siblings.
The trash bonfire had gone out, and Michelle hurried to carry another load of trash outside and help Madison get the fire restarted. In the few minutes she was outside, 6-year-old Zoe looked up from the TV and apparently noticed that the bathroom door was open.
“I’m always on them to keep the door shut,” Michelle said. “And I guess Zoe noticed it was open. She went in and found Jayden facefirst in the water in the bathtub.”
Zoe had taken a bath and forgot to drain the bathwater, even though Michelle had reminded her, Michelle said.
“I had brought the trash outside and was positioning it while he lit it, and the kids came out screaming,” she said.
Zoe had quickly pulled Zayden from the water, and 11-year-old Wyatt had started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Michelle said. Madison took over as soon as he got in the house.
Zayden had been dressed when he climbed up onto the family’s garden tub and then apparently slipped into the water. “We yanked his wet clothes off and wrapped him in a blanket. He was cold, and he was barely breathing,” Michelle said.
She estimates he may have been underwater as long as 10 minutes.
Michelle called 911, and within minutes the desperate rescue efforts unfolded before her anxious eyes.
“I’m so grateful to them, all of the ones who were here and at the hospitals and on the Survival Flight,” Michelle said Monday night a few hours after she and Jayden had arrived back home from Mercy Hospital.
“Seriously, it took everybody doing what they did for Jayden to make it. If the ones who came here hadn’t done what they did, if the ones in the ambulance from here to the hospital hadn’t done what they did, if the people at Baxter hadn’t made it so he could survive the flight to Springfield ... Everyone was so amazing. And those people on Survival Flight – what they did was amazing too.”
The Ozark County rescuers expressed relief that Jayden is OK. “So often, we load them into the ambulance, and we don’t know what happens to them,” Ator said.
Roberts, the MSHP water patrol officer, whose dangerous rescue of survivors during the spring 2017 flood was described in the May 2, 2018 edition of the Times, said, “It’s not the ones you save; it’s the ones you don’t save that haunt you.”
He and Walley both worked one of Ozark County’s hardest tragedies in recent years when a 13-year-old Springfield girl, Chloe Butcher, drowned in 2016 after she became entangled underwater at a breach in the Dawt Mill dam on the North Fork of the White River. The dam has since been removed.
Walley understands the “haunting” Roberts feels. “I still see that little girl in my sleep a couple of nights a week,” he said.
Thankfully, this time was different, and on Oct. 29, Jayden’s family will surely celebrate his first birthday with some extra enthusiasm.
Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed’s Facebook post about Ator’s and Roberts’ role in the baby’s resuscitation drew dozens of positive comments. In response to one commenter’s post that God put the rescuers in “the right place at the right time,” Ator replied, “It was God’s will. God wasn’t ready for the little fella yet, he was just making sure we were.”
CPR / drowning rescue class opportunity
Would you like to learn CPR, including infant CPR and drowning-rescue techniques – or would you like learn updated techniques from past lessons? Stephen Ator, who in addition to being an Ozark County reserve deputy and a Tecumseh VFD firefighter and first responder, is also Ozark County’s emergency management director. He says he will work on organizing a CPR / rescue class in the near future if enough people here express interest. The class is usually two to four hours, and Ator hopes he can find sponsors so that the class would be free or low-cost for participants. If you’re interested, call the Times office at 417-679-4641 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.