‘She was dead for six minutes’
FOR six minutes, she was 'dead'.
Minutes where Faith Leiataua, 3, lay lifeless with no pulse or breath after she was pulled unconscious from the water at the Newmarket Olympic Pool on Saturday afternoon.
Minutes between when her mother, Easter Leiataua, was watching her happily playing in the water to then screaming for her daughter's life after she nearly drowned just before 5pm.
But those were the six critical minutes in which heroic bystanders, including an off-duty doctor and nurse, brought Faith back to life in an extraordinary story of survival.
Ms Leiataua, a mother-of-six, said she's 'mad' at her 'careless' attitude towards pool safety which led her daughter to come chillingly close to death.
The mum, who lives in Logan Central, said she was one metre away from where Faith, her youngest child, was playing in the kids' pool but she lost sight of her 'for two seconds'.
She said she turned away when she saw her daughter was with her nieces and nephews, aged 18 and 19, and assumed she would be safe.
Ms Leiataua said she was also trying to keep eyes on her other children.
As temperatures soared around the state, it was a busy day at the pool and, horrifyingly, nobody noticed, at some point, Faith had wandered into the deep pool.
Dr Luke Jeremijenko, a father-of-five, was at the pool with his six-year-old son for a child's birthday party when he saw the lifeguard dive into the water to rescue an unconscious child.
The emergency physician at The Wesley Hospital rushed to help while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
"I immediately saw her (lifeguard) pick up something out of the water … the child was floppy and unresponsive … she was face down... I knew this child had drowned," he said.
"I sprinted down about 50m or 60m and I saw the lifeguard had CPR in progress, I was there within 10 or 15 seconds and I immediately started what's called Expired Air Resuscitation, or rescue breaths.
"It was innate response of any dad when they see a pale, lifeless child being drawn out of the water."
Dr Jeremijenko praised the fast action of the pool's lifesaver and an off-duty nurse, who quickly emerged from the crowd, as they worked together to resuscitate the little girl.
"We were very concerned we weren't going to get the child back … I thought that was it," recalls Dr Jeremijenko.
"There was about six minutes in total where she had no pulse and wasn't breathing … there was no signs of life.
"The survival rate is less than 40 per cent without breathing, without a pulse and completely unconscious for six minutes.
"She may not be alive if I was not nearby."
Dr Jeremijenko was overwhelmed with a 'huge sense of relief' when Faith took her first gasps of air.
"On the third cycle (of CPR), Faith did a bit of a cough and regained a level of consciousness, sufficient that we were able to put her in recovery position at which stage I was trying to scoop the vomit, chlorine and pool water out of her mouth."
Ms Leiataua, still shaken from the harrowing events, said she's incredibly grateful for Dr Jeremijenko.
"Luke was an angel that came out of nowhere, he is a hero," she said.
"It was a miracle for her to have survived, I'm so lucky they were there.
"If I had a lot of wealth, I wish I could give it all to them, everything I had, I'm so happy they helped her.
Ms Leiataua said the family were at the pool celebrating Faith's cousins' first birthday. She was packing up their belongings getting ready to leave when the nightmare unfolded.
"I was watching her swimming in the kids' pool only a metre away, I was just right there," she said.
"My niece was looking after her in the kid's pool and somehow she missed Faith in her sight and she realised at some point she couldn't see her and that's when Faith wandered off to the deep pool because it's not very far.
"I just lost sight of her for two seconds.
"I was maybe 10m away … I was with my older sister and we were just about to round up the children to leave when my sister was yelling, 'your daughter, your daughter is being pulled out, she's drowned'," said Ms Leiataua.
Ms Leiataua said she fell to the ground, overcome.
"My heart stopped, I didn't know whether I was breathing or not, all I did was run over and see her being pulled out of the swimming pool," she said.
"I just wanted to touch her and all I knew is I couldn't do anything, all I could do was pray to God to help her to give her life back.
Dr Jeremijenko said Ms Leiataua was hysterical when she made it to her daughter's side.
"After the second cycle (of CPR), we were looking for where mum was … we were very concerned we weren't going to get the child back but there was no mother to be found," he said.
"She came over about four minutes into the CPR.
"We'd already got her well and truly back and she was crying out 'mummy' by the time the paramedics were there … it was definitely bystander's CPR that saved that kid's life."
Faith was rushed to the Queensland Children's Hospital where she spent the next four nights being monitored.
She has made a full recovery, says Ms Leiataua, and is back singing and dancing in front of the television.
But the mother said her grave mistake was a warning to other parents.
"I was really mad at myself for being so careless with her around a swimming pool, I wasn't being serious about her safety and thinking with her older nieces she would be OK and nothing would happen," she said.
"Never let your child out of your sight, always hold their hands and have them with you at all times, even in places like public areas.
"I've learnt a lesson that I should be the one with her and looking after her when swimming and not relying on others.
"I'm usually one of those over protective parents that follow them (kids) everywhere but for some reason this is the only day I wasn't really being more serious with the safety of Faith."
Dr Jeremijenko said it was vital parents remain vigilant, especially heading into summer.
"They call it the silent death, when there's so many people around and nobody notices because everyone is doing backflips. She (Faith) just sunk to the bottom," he said.
"Water and pool safety, especially at this time of year, is vital."
It's a timely message ahead of summer with water safety pioneer Laurie Lawrence urging parents to get their infants in swimming lessons early.
"When I hear about a child drowning, I feel for the parents … I know accidents can happen and it just makes me determined to get those stats down to zero," Lawrence tells Qweekend in tomorrow's magazine.
It comes as this year marks 20 years of Lawrence's Kids Alive Do the Five program and during its tenure, the number of child drownings in Australia has drastically reduced from 63 in 1999/2000 to 12 in 2019/2020.
Ms Leiataua said the ordeal has prompted her to seek urgent swimming lessons for all her children.
Originally published as 'Dead for six minutes': The incredible miracle of Faith