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The ‘miracle baby’ of Sunset Lake

09:30 Dec 31 2015 Sunset Lake, Orlando, Orange County, Florida, 32811, United States of America


The ‘miracle baby’ of Sunset Lake The ‘miracle baby’ of Sunset Lake
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Some of the events of Nov. 23, 1995, are foggy for Vanessa Haulund. Others are so clear they bring tears as she recalls them, 20 years later.

Thanksgiving Day 1995 was the worst day of her life. And the best.

On that day, as she stood on the shores of Sunset Lake near Wilkeson, she watched her two brothers and her husband, Christopher, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a young drowning victim.

She dared not get close. She couldn’t bear it.

The little girl was her 13-month-old daughter and only child, Dayna.

“She was so pale,” Vanessa recalled earlier this week. “I know I couldn’t go near her because I knew if I touched her, she wouldn’t be alive. All I could say was, ‘Dear God, please have mercy.’ ”

Dayna lay on her back, not breathing, her eyes open to the drizzling sky.

Soon an ambulance and a deputy sheriff arrived. Then began a desperate race against time, an agonizing bedside vigil at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and a recovery that the family today calls a miracle.

Today, Dayna Haulund is a vivacious 21-year-old beauty school student with a fondness for bright pink. She has no memory of her near-death experience or the long recovery in the hospital.

But she knows it changed the people in her life.

“I remember people coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re the miracle baby,’ and hugging me,” Dayna said.

Occasionally, she would watch taped TV news segments on the ordeal.

“Watching that with my parents, I see them get choked up and sad as if they’re reliving it, so that affects me,” she said.

THANKSGIVING AT THE LAKE
Alaska residents at the time, Vanessa and Christopher Haulund and their extended family had rented a hall at Sunset Lake to celebrate Thanksgiving and hold a family reunion.

Vanessa’s family, raised in Puyallup, had often visited the Seventh-Day Adventist church camp while growing up.

While Vanessa and Christopher were riding horses on that day, another family member was watching the children in the camp hall.

Somehow, Dayna slipped out an unwatched back door and headed straight to her favorite plaything: water.

“She saw that lake and probably thought it was a big bathtub,” Christopher said.

When Vanessa’s mother returned to the hall she noticed Dayna was missing and immediately rallied nearby adults and older children to start searching.

No one is sure how many minutes Dayna was in the water: As little as five or as many as 15. Some family friends walking by the lake found Dayna in the water.

“They pulled her out by her feet,” Vanessa said.

She and Christopher had just started their horseback trip when someone ran up saying their daughter had fallen in the lake and drowned.

Christopher jumped off his horse and ran back to the lake. When he arrived his brothers-in-law, both nurses, were performing CPR.

“I looked at her and her eyes were still open,” Christopher recalled. “It was the worst feeling in the world.”

When Vanessa arrived, “My husband was right alongside my brothers. They were relentless, trying to bring her back.”

She remembers people talking to her but it’s a blur in her memory.

“The next person I remember was Dan Hudson,” Vanessa said. “He was my rock.”

THE DEPUTY
On that Thanksgiving Day, Dan Hudson was working a quiet shift as a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy in the Foothills Detachment.

He was the sole deputy covering a 500-square-mile area. But the day was slow enough to allow him to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house.

Then the day became anything but slow.

After getting the call about the emergency at Sunset Lake, Hudson arrived on the scene just as the paramedic was getting out of his ambulance.

Still with no vital signs, Dayna was loaded in to the ambulance. Hudson put Christopher and Vanessa in the back seat of his Jeep Cherokee.

“I looked at (the paramedic),” Hudson recalled, “and I said, ‘I’m going to lead. We’re going to meet (the medical helicopter). Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal for nothing. If somebody gets in our way, I’ll take them out.”

Hudson put out a radio message asking other law enforcement officers to clear the route and block the side roads.

“It was like choreography,” Christopher recalled. “Every intersection we went through — two state troopers slid sideways to block it.”

The entourage reached Enumclaw High School, where the medical helicopter was waiting.

“They hot loaded her — they didn’t shut down the engines — which we only do in extreme cases,” Hudson said.

While Dayna was flying, Hudson and the Haulunds continued the trip to Mary Bridge in Tacoma.

“All I remember at that point was sitting in the back seat with my wife and thinking our world has ended,” Christopher said. “We were holding each other crying so hard. That was our first baby.”

Hudson figures he drove about 130 miles per hour nearly the entire way to Mary Bridge.

“I think he had it on two wheels a couple of times,” Christopher said.

Still, it was a long trip.

“I remember them in the back seat, both crying,” Hudson said. “I lost it a couple of times myself.”

A GRIM PROGNOSIS
Because Mary Bridge didn’t have a helipad at the time the helicopter landed at St. Joseph Medical Center, 12 blocks away.

She was sped to Mary Bridge, where the waiting began. It wasn’t until later that night that Dayna’s parents were able to see her.

“We thought she was going to die that night,” Christopher said. “I counted 14 IVs going into her at one point.”

Christopher’s father, a former Russian orthodox priest, arrived the next day from Ohio and administered an emergency baptism.

“The outlook was pretty grim,” Vanessa said.

Very few near-drowning victims survive and those that do face significant health challenges. Doctors told the couple Dayna could have suffered damage to her lungs, heart and possibly her brain.

Adding to her situation was that she had been immersed in fresh water. It’s better, it turns out, to nearly drown in saltwater than in fresh. The body can better resist internal saltwater intrusion.

In addition, Dayna apparently had hit her head on a rock when she fell in the water. A head injury — she still has the scar today — forced her cranial pressure to climb dangerously high.

“I don’t know how many times I went out to smoke cigarettes outside the ambulance door and praying to God, taking back anything bad I had done to anyone in my life,” Christopher said.

After a week Dayna’s condition improved enough to where she could be taken off a ventilator. The drugs used to keep her in a coma were slowly withdrawn.

Soon after Vanessa was reading a “Winnie the Pooh” book to her daughter.

“There was a part in it she always liked to act out. She would point to her head: ‘Think, think, think,’ ” Vanessa said of times prior to the accident.

“She wasn’t all the way awake yet. Her eyes were closed. When I got to that part she started tapping her head. I knew she was in there.”

It was the moment the Haulunds knew they would get their daughter back.

“I remember the nurses running around crying and saying ‘Baby Dayna’s back,’ ” Christopher said.

Doctors told the Haulunds that if Dayna recovered, she would need several months of therapy to learn to talk and walk again.

But within days she was talking and walking and was soon released from the hospital. Not that there weren’t aftereffects.

“She would start screaming in the night,” Vanessa said. “Screaming and crying. There was nothing you could do to calm her.”

The Haulunds had another daughter, Kayla, now 19. And soon the family put the incident in the past.

“For the first few years we always talked about it and then it kind of faded away,” Christopher said. “I think I kind of shut it out.

“I am lucky and blessed to still have my daughter. But I know a lot of people who haven’t been that lucky. It’s something you can’t take for granted.”

THANKSGIVING 2015
“I didn’t think I’d ever come back …” Vanessa said, looking at the serene waters of Sunset Lake last Sunday with her two daughters. “It gets easier each time.”

Thanksgiving, naturally, has extra significance for the family, now residents of Steilacoom.

Twenty years on, Vanessa and Christopher can’t quite put into words the gratitude, the thanks, the what-ifs.

What if her brother hadn’t taken a refresher course on infant CPR just a week earlier? What if Dan Hudson hadn’t cleared the way to Enumclaw? What if the doctors at Mary Bridge hadn’t chosen the medical care they used?

“I always remember all the people in the right place at the right time,” Vanessa said.

“The worst thing that ever happened in my life turned out to be one of the best things,” Christopher said. “It changed who I am as a person. I feel blessed. It was a true miracle.”

“Even the best of people have accidents,” Hudson said. “Fortunately it was a good outcome.”

He’s just retired but still teaches the story of Dayna’s near drowning to other rescue personnel.

The No. 1 lesson?

“Don’t give up hope.”
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