Nikiski teen saves sister, 4, from drowning

Posted: Thursday, December 05, 2002

KENAI - When a friend told Jean Mapes that the family's dog had fallen into Thetis Lake about 50 yards from her home, she sent her son to pull the animal out of the shallow water.

But as Mapes watched from a window, 13-year-old Christopher ignored the dog and instead lifted a pink bundle from the water - his 4-year-old sister Olivia, dressed in her pink raincoat.

In what hospital personnel called a miracle rescue, Olivia and the family pet - named Dog - are recovering from their ordeal.

Olivia was playing with the family's pet bunnies at about 1:30 p.m. when a friend who lives with the family returned from work, Jean Mapes said Wednesday. The friend had spotted Dog, a mutt that may be a combination Australian Shepherd and blue heeler, struggling to pull itself onto the thin ice from the water.

The dog was about 30 feet from shore, but the water is shallow. Mapes figured her son could walk in the water even if he broke through the ice. Dressed in tennis shoes, blue jeans and a T-shirt, Christopher headed for the lake as Mapes watched from a window.

Once on the ice, Christopher broke through. But instead of continuing toward Dog, he lifted something pink out of the water. Mapes immediately recognized the color of her daughter's raincoat.

"Then it dawned on me - she wasn't by the bunny cage," Mapes said.

The little girl had tried to rescue the dog. Christopher found her floating face down. She had been in the water up to 10 minutes. Mapes ran to the porch and Christopher yelled from the lake.

"He called out, 'It's Olivia, call 9-1-1,' " Mapes said. Mapes ran inside, made the emergency call, then dashed to the lake, barefoot and wearing shorts.

Mapes got as close as she could to her children. Olivia's face was blue and her eyes were rolled back, Mapes said.

"He slid her over to me on the ice," Mapes said. "I thought she was not with us."

Mapes said she was hysterical as she flung Olivia over her shoulder and ran toward the house. As the girl bounced on her mother's shoulder, a white foam exited her mouth, a mixture of oxygen and water. Christopher, meanwhile, stayed in the water, lifted Dog to safety and climbed out himself.

A neighbor, Larry Buss, heard Mapes' screams and ran to help. They set the girl on the hood of a car and Buss started cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They removed her wet clothes and covered the girl with a blanket, then moved her into the house and covered her with hot clothes from the dryer.

Nikiski Fire Department emergency responders arrived and found Olivia breathing, but her heart rate was down and her temperature was at 84 degrees.

"She was not in good shape," said Nikiski Fire Chief Dan Gregory.

Emergency medical technicians hooked Olivia to an IV and continued to warm her as they rushed her to Central Peninsula General Hospital. Mapes rode in the ambulance with Olivia.

"She screamed the whole way to the hospital," she said. "All that noise was better than no noise."

The water was so cold, it ended up being helpful to Olivia, Mapes said. She went into shock apparently but her vital organs, including her brain, kept functioning.

Her rescuers did the right things, Chief Gregory said.

"It was a close one," he said.

Five hours after she fell in the water, Olivia's temperature was normal and she recognized family members, Mapes said. Christopher Mapes was treated and released. His mother's feet were cut and bleeding after her barefoot run on the ice.

"It's kind of a heroic thing but then again it's not," Jean Mapes said. "You just kind of react."

Olivia still has fluid in her lungs and is being watched for pneumonia. Mapes said the 4-year-old remembered everything that happened as she broke through the ice but she was not able to swim.

Mapes said she plans to have her daughter take swimming lessons, and she plans a class for herself.

"I don't know CPR, but I guarantee when there's another class, we're all taking it," Mapes said. "I don't like that feeling of not knowing what to do."

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