A two-year-old girl will forever be on the minds of the two U.S. Air Force Airmen who saved her from drowning at a popular lake in southwest Germany, Aug. 2.
“Don’t die, stay awake, just don’t die,” said Senior Airman Ezekiel Lopez, 52nd Force Support Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, fitness center journeyman.
As Lopez conducted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, rapidly pressing against her chest and applying as much pressure as he could during the chest compressions, the events leading up to that moment were vividly playing back in the mind of another Airman standing by his side.
“My family and friends were starting to barbeque, but my two-year-old son wanted to be closer to the lake, so him and I went and stuck our feet in some barely ankle deep water,” said Staff Sgt. Corey Drake, 1st Combat Communications client systems technician.
As Drake watched his son try to skip rocks across the surface of the lake, something else trying to remain afloat on that same surface caught his attention.
“I thought it was an animal,” Drake said. “It was like thirty yards away from me, on the water line. It was pale in color and kept circling and flipping from its belly to its back.”
He then saw an arm and a leg come above water and realized that the “it” was a human being attempting to swim and stay above water.
“The swimming motions weren’t panicked, if anything they appeared to be slow and casual. It looked like a kid playing,” Drake said.
Drake continued to watch the kid for a few moments, until he realized the child was not moving in any specific direction, and its head never popped up in excitement. This unusual behavior prompted Drake to pick up his son and head over to investigate.
“It was probably when I got about 10 yards away, that I realized it was a serious issue,” Drake said. “As I got closer to her, she had stopped moving, was face-down, and her limbs were submerged.”
Immediately grabbing the toddler, Drake placed her on his left hip, and with his son on his right hip, quickly ran back towards the beach.
“I just started screaming HELP! HELP! HELP!,” Drake said. “As I got to the beach, there was a man who looked concerned and extended his arms. I put her in his arms and he immediately took off running towards the lifeguard station.”
That concerned man who had just taken the toddler in his care and was running to save her life was Lopez.
Unresponsive and skin pale, the next few minutes would determine life or death for the little girl.
“I threw her over my shoulder and a lifeguard, who had heard the same cries for help, pointed me in the direction of the lifeguard station,” Lopez said. “While running, the little girl began to bounce against my shoulder and started to spit-up some water, though she was still unresponsive.”
Lopez was the first person to conduct chest compressions, allowing the lifeguards to get the proper equipment needed to safely perform mouth to mouth resuscitation.
“I have to be CPR certified for my job, but this was the first time I actually had to use it,” Lopez said. “I’m glad I had the training and was able to act so quickly, without hesitating.”
The German lifeguards eventually took over and conducted CPR for approximately six minutes, ultimately, being able to remove the water from the toddler’s lungs and bring her to consciousness.
Since the incident last weekend, the little girl has fully recovered and is healthy.
The little girl’s family, the emergency medical technicians, the doctors, lifeguards and police have all thanked Drake and Lopez for their quick thinking and heroic actions.
“I can’t stop thinking about her,” Drake said. “I can’t get her face out of my mind.”
The little girl, Lopez and Drake, three strangers, are now forever linked.