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Girl Who Nearly Drowned in Great Oaks Pool 'Doing Great' Today, Mom Says

Recent Rochester High grad was lifeguard who helped save Stella Dougherty's life.

For a split second, Jennifer Dougherty thought her 3-year-old daughter, Stella, was just being adventurous in the kiddie pool at in Rochester Hills.

Stella's head was underwater – something Dougherty said her daughter was usually too afraid to do.

Then, the Clarkston resident and mother of two realized her daughter wasn't playing. Nor was she moving.

And she was blue.

“I was just panic-stricken," said Dougherty. "I needed help.”

Help would arrive from all directions. And so began a series of events last Wednesday that would save little Stella's life.

'It was terrifying'

Today, a week after the ordeal, Stella is doing fine.

What caused Stella to end up face down in the shallow pool is not clear, though Dougherty said doctors believe Stella may have had a febrile seizure – a type of seizure that can be caused by a spike in a child's body temperature.

When she first noticed her daughter not moving and face-down in the pool, Dougherty said she pulled her out and began screaming.

The screams caught the attention of nearby lifeguard Michael Zuke.

"She had her daughter in her arms, and her daughter was just blue," said 18-year-old Zuke, a recent graduate. "It hit me just then that this is real."

Zuke ran over, unzipped Stella's life jacket, told another lifeguard to call 911 and immediately began CPR.

"It was terrifying," said Dougherty.

Zuke, performing one-handed chest compressions on the girl's small frame, was soon joined by fellow lifeguards Bret Miller and Ben Vavra, who took turns performing chest compressions and rescue breathing until paramedics arrived.

Within 10 minutes, or what "felt like an hour" to Zuke, the Rochester Hills Fire Department arrived on the scene. By that time, little Stella was groaning and breathing on her own, Zuke said.

“I can’t even recall everything what went on at that time now," said Dougherty, who also has a 21-month-old daughter, Violet. “All I remember is her shaking, like a seizure."

Mom thanks those who helped

Stella was transported first to in Rochester and then on to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. She was released that evening.

“She’s doing great right now, thank goodness," Dougherty said.

Though Stella is doing well now, her near drowning is still affecting those who were involved.

"It was gut-wrenching going there" without knowing the girl's condition, said Oakland County Sheriff's Sergeant John Jacobson on Tuesday. Jacobson responded to the call along with the Rochester Hills Fire Department.

Jacobson even followed Stella to Crittenton Hospital. "I spoke to her doctor myself and she was up, alert and talking when I left," he said.

Deputy Kevin McNally, who also responded to the call, kept tabs on Stella's recovery at Beaumont, which Dougherty said she appreciated.

And, of course, Dougherty said she is grateful for the lifeguards who were present at that moment, for the paramedics who responded and for anyone else who helped her daughter that day.

“Anyone that helped, anyone that picked up the phone, whoever called 911 – there were a few moms who came over and tried to help ... I’m just appreciative of any help we received."

Dougherty hopes that there's a lesson to be learned from her family's ordeal.

"It wasn't like she was left for 30 seconds," Dougherty said. “It couldn’t have been more than 10 seconds, and she was face-down in the pool.

"You turn your back for five seconds, 10 seconds, and that's all it takes."

Colleen Stormer July 06, 2011 at 04:40 PM
Glad to hear she is doing well. A few years back we were at a swimming pool in Florida and an elderly man quietly went underwater. I had been keeping an eye on him because he was acting a little strange. When he did not come up for air I dove into the pool and found him unconscious at the bottom of the pool!! I called for help and we pulled him out of the pool. Fortunately someone knew CPR, 911 was called and an ambulance came. He ended up being ok after spending some time in the hospital. It was very scary and amazingly quiet as he just went under the water without a big fuss. No HELP IM DROWNING!!! Very scary!
Kim Simons July 06, 2011 at 06:05 PM
Excellent article and excellent resource in "The Silent Truth" article. One note: I know of one person who nearly drowned who, contrary to what some say, actually was waving for help but no one paid attention. So just because someone is waving does not mean they are okay necessarily. FYI :)
Carol Kalvelage July 07, 2011 at 02:29 AM
I am relieved that Stella is doing well- I agree, excellent job by lifeguard and by mom checking on her- I was just at Lifetime pool today with my daughter and a couple of her friends. Great reminder of not to take anything for granted and to leave the IPAD, or other distractions, at home. Thanks for the story-
Sandy S July 09, 2011 at 01:24 AM
My daughter happens to be the one that called 911 and spoke to them the whole time and she also helped Stella's Mom take her life jacket off of her. I praise God that Stella is doing great and I praise God that our daughter was so fast acting in knowing what to do when she don't even work at the Great Oaks Pool. God is good.
Liz July 13, 2011 at 07:36 PM
Very happy to hear Stella is doing better.

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