Circumstances, CPR saves baby

Jenny Gessaman
A woman holding an honorary wooden plaque crouches next to a toddler strapped into a stroller.

Darci Dawson crouches next to recovered Kaden Sluggett after accepting her Life Saving Award Thursday morning.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

Watching a child float by in the creek may have been unreal for Darci Dawson, but her reaction was immediate: she pulled the 18-month-old from Warm Spring Creek and started CPR. For her life-saving response, the Fergus County Sheriff’s Department presented her with the Life Saver Award Thursday morning.

 Sheriff Troy Eades bestowed the honor, praising Dawson’s knowledge and use of CPR. He also commended the prompt call to 911.

The call and Dawson’s actions were prompted last Saturday when Kaden Sluggett fell into the creek near his great-grandmother’s cabin. Mother Jessica Newton said the toddler went outside with family while she and her sister prepared a birthday dinner. When she went out to check on Kaden, no one knew where he was.

“The whole time I’m thinking he’s just going to be in the gravel pile playing with his tractors,” Newton said.

She immediately started the search, running to a nearby bridge and back. That’s when shouting drew her to the neighboring cabin.

The yells belonged to Dawson. The Lewistown native, now from Washington, was enjoying the first day of her annual vacation, having just arrived at her parents’ cabin. She was stepping out of the creek when she glanced back and saw Kaden disappearing with the current.

“It couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I was horrified,” Dawson said. “It’s an image I wish I could somehow get out of my brain.

He was not alive at that moment.”

She retrieved the toddler, yelling to her parents to get her three children inside and call 911. CPR was not a second thought for Dawson, who had repeatedly trained throughout her life, first as a Lewistown City Pool lifeguard, then as student teacher and teacher.

Dawson was surprised at the amount of fluids, but never stopped chest compressions. One thought motivated her.

“I am not going to hand some mother her child not breathing.”

Dawson paused CPR only to carry Kaden to her dad’s car. Newton and her sister had followed the commotion, and found the neighbors ready to transport her son. The group jumped in, with Dawson continuing compressions in the back of the vehicle. Newton remembered watching her son’s condition.

“He had a heartbeat, and he was taking breaths, but they weren’t anything regular,” she said.

An ambulance met the group on a nearby highway, transporting mother and son to Central Montana Medical Center. Sean Edwards was part of the responding EMS crew, and said Dawson’s actions saved Kaden.

“What we do wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t saved the baby’s life,” he said.

Amy LePage, Kaden’s ER doctor and the emergency department medical director, agreed, and she encouraged everyone to have CPR training.

“Bystander CPR is one of the most important things in people surviving because by the time the ambulance gets there, or they get to the hospital, they’ve gone a long time without getting oxygen to their brain,” she explained.

LePage noted Dawson’s actions highlighted two important things about chest compressions: They should be done immediately, and they should be continued until a patient wakes up or starts breathing. She added child CPR should include rescue breathing because children are more likely to stop breathing.

Kaden spent three hours at CMMC before being flown to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, according to Newton. While Kaden’s family followed him, Dawson and her parents spent a sobering night wondering.

“[When the ambulance came] He was still not conscious, so at that point I didn’t know what kind of hope we gave him,” Dawson recalled. “It was a really sad night because we didn’t know what that meant for him.”

Kaden’s great-grandmother delivered good news about his progress in the morning. Dawson was relieved but concern for the boy stuck with her.

“I was having a hard time sleeping, so I drove to Billings and went and saw him at St. Vincent with my own eyes,” she said.

The mother, great grandmother and Dawson connected on Facebook, and sent updates through the social media. The toddler was released Wednesday, and his mother has seen no lasting effects on her son.

“He’s the same Kaden he was before,” Newton said.

She is grateful, for lucky circumstances and for Dawson’s actions.

“Darci w as very in the moment and determined, and I respected that,” she said.

Dawson has taken away some things, too.

“One is how precious life is, and I guess God is good,” she said. “ And I am signing up to refresh my CPR the minute I get back home. I’ll be making sure my kids are taking it, too.”



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