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'They gave us our baby back.' Paramedics honored for rescuing toddler from near-drowning

Leigh Chambers, a retired Sedgwick County EMS paramedic, plays with Kason Dube at a news conference Wednesday. Chambers and Gabe Shults were honored for the care and rescue of Dube after he nearly drowned in a pond last December.
Leigh Chambers, a retired Sedgwick County EMS paramedic, plays with Kason Dube at a news conference Wednesday. Chambers and Gabe Shults were honored for the care and rescue of Dube after he nearly drowned in a pond last December. Correspondent

Crystal Reed wipes tears from her eyes when she thinks back to Dec. 18.

Her 18-month-old son, Kason Dube, was pulled from a half-frozen pond behind his grandparents' house in southeast Sedgwick County that day. He was cold and blue. No heartbeat, no pulse.

Reed's brother Jordan had started CPR and Reed continued it the best she could, recalling the technique from her years as a daycare worker.

Within about four minutes, Sedgwick County EMS paramedics Leigh Chambers and Gabe Shults arrived and got to work saving Kason's life. The men continued CPR compressions, administered intravenous fluids, got the toddler warm and dry and transported him by ambulance to Wesley Medical Center.

"We owe it all to them. I told them from Day One, what they do is beautiful," Reed said. "They gave us our baby back, and that's pretty amazing."

At the hospital on Wednesday, a fully recovered Kason ran around the conference room wearing a T-shirt that said, "Here comes trouble," munching cookies and roaring like a typical 2-year-old. Chambers and Shults received awards in honor of their lifesaving heroics.

"They will say that it's just part of their job," said Gary Poindexter, Wesley's EMS coordinator. "These medics worked diligently, and this child's heart started beating."

The paramedics said Kason, who celebrated his second birthday with a bowling-alley party in March, is nothing short of a miracle, having recovered from the near-drowning with no damage to his brain, lungs or other organs. That wasn't what Chambers expected when they transported the boy to the emergency room in December.

"We just looked at each other like, 'We probably didn't save that life,'" Chambers recalled, shaking his head. "We had no idea how long he had been down. . . . We just did what we practiced. None of this is routine, but you just do it because that's the best way you can perform your job."

Chambers was three days from retirement when his crew got the call. He worked as a paramedic for three decades.

"Thirty years of doing this, and this is the only one that has really hit home like this," he said. "I've had saves over the years, but nothing I can remember to this extent."

Shults remembers pulling up to the pond that cold day and hoping emergency dispatch had gotten it wrong.

"We always hope that it's not as bad as they say — that it's not an 18-month-old in a half-frozen pond, or that maybe he got dunked in the water a little bit, and he's cold but fine," he said. "That was kind of our hope, but that was not the case."

Shults and Chambers continued CPR for at least six minutes before they detected a faint pulse and heartbeat.

"We don't want to see anybody in that situation, let alone a less-than-2-year-old kid," Shults said. "So we get there and we get to work. You just have to rely back on what you've done for countless times."

Kason's grandmother, Karen Reed, calls Kason her "miracle boy." He was on life support for several days at the hospital, but was released to go home — walking, talking and playing — after just 2 1/2 weeks.

"To us, it just seems like such a miraculous, God thing," Karen Reed said. "God put everyone in the right exact place that they needed to be that day," including the emergency responders.

"It's such a powerful story, and it's touched so many people — not only our family, but in the community," she said. "People were praying for us from all around the country, all around the world."

Shults said one crucial thing worked in the emergency crew's favor that day: Kason's uncle and mother knew CPR and had started it immediately.

"I think that's the only reason he made the recovery that he did," Shults said.

Kason also had some swim lessons through a program called Infant Swimming Resource, which teaches babies how to flip, float and survive in deep water. Crystal Reed said the water temperature likely worked against Kason that day, but she had him back in the pool for lessons just weeks after the near-drowning.

"That boy will get in warm water and he'll flip to his back, he'll swim to the side just like nothing ever happened," Reed said. "He goes two to three times a week, and he loves it."

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