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For 3 hours, this toddler had no pulse. How doctors still saved Waylon Saunders

Found face-down in a icy backyard swimming pool where he'd been for at least five minutes, the 20-month-old was cold and lifeless when firefighters brought him to Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital in Petrolia, Ont. 

Care teams in two cities worked together after 20-month-old found lifeless in backyard pool

A toddler boy sits on the floor and smiles at the camera. He is wearing a neck brace.
Waylon Saunders is home from the hospital and recovering after being found unresponsive in a backyard pool at his home daycare. (Supplied by Gillian Burnett)

For three hours, Waylon Saunders was, by most medical definitions, dead.

Found face-down in an icy backyard swimming pool where he'd been for at least five minutes, the 20-month-old was cold and lifeless when firefighters brought him to Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital in Petrolia, Ont., on Jan. 24. 

Petrolia is located 100 kilometres from London, and its hospital doesn't have the same gear and staffing of a major pediatric hospital. That day, everyone from nurses to lab technicians dropped what they were doing and began helping with the job of resuscitating Waylon.

For three hours, they took turns performing CPR on the child.

WATCH | Doctor Janice Tijssen explains how they saved Waylon: 

Saving baby Waylon who was underwater for five minutes

3 months ago
Duration 1:14
Toddler Waylon Saunders was found face down and lifeless in the backyard swimming pool of the home daycare he attended in Petrolia, Ont. Dr. Janice Tijssen from London Health Sciences Centre explains how they saved him.

"They had a cycle of people providing CPR in Petrolia. They had people warming him with many different techniques," said Dr. Janice Tijssen, director of pediatric critical care unit at Children's Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre. 

She describes how the team needed to raise his body temperature, and when it reached 28 C, they started to have hope. A critical care team from London would travel to Petrolia, returning with the toddler where care continued. 

"There was a big team helping him then, keeping him comfortable as his organs started to heal. Then allowing him to wake up. He's exceeded all expectations," said Tijssen.

They have a piece of my heart for the rest of my life- Gillian Burnett, Waylon's mother

Waylon was intubated and he was on a ventilator, with doctors troubleshooting what they call organ instability. 

"We were really trying to keep him alive so we could give him the best chance at good recovery," Tijssen said.

The daycare has been slapped with municipal bylaw infractions over problems inspectors found with how the pool was protected.

On Friday, the 50-year-old operator of the home daycare was charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and will appear in a Sarnia court in March. 

'They did something amazing'

Waylon's mother Gillian Burnett said she owes a lifetime of gratitude to the care team who saved her son's life. 

"They're heroes," she said. "The other day I told them that they're God's soldiers. I will forever love them, they are like a big family to us. They have a piece of my heart for the rest of my life." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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