LONG BEACH, Wash. – Charles Ostrander’s head hung back lifelessly as he was carried out of the frigid Pacific, 15 minutes or more after a riptide sucked in the 12-year-old.
Today, he’s alive. How?
You could say prayers. There were many along the beach late last week as his body bobbed limply just below the ocean’s surface. But there was also a team of volunteer rescuers, the medics who performed CPR well after all seemed lost, and another 12-year-old who risked her own life to help him before anyone else could.
And there was the ocean itself. At 56 degrees, the water was cold enough that it may have bought rescuers a little time.
The boy, who goes by his nickname, Dale, has spoken a few words since his ordeal and was moved out of intensive care Wednesday. It’s unclear whether he’ll fully recover, but his parents, Chad and Kirsten, have hope.
“There’s been several miracles just in the circumstances of finding him, the fact that he’s not dead, the fact that he can move, the fact that he can speak,” Chad Ostrander said. “Unbelievable.”
Dale was visiting the southwest Washington coast with members of his church youth group Friday when the ocean’s strong currents pulled him and another boy far from shore. They were just wading, not swimming, his father said.
“A riptide hit them, kind of knocked them off their feet,” said Shanon Kissel, a sawmill worker who was boogie boarding in a shallow area nearby with his daughter, Nicole.
Nicole took off after Dale on her boogie board, even though her father was yelling that she was going into a dangerous area.
“She didn’t hear me. She just kept going after Dale,” Kissel said.
The boy, dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and pants, struggled onto Nicole’s 3-foot-long boogie board. The pair paddled ferociously toward shore as the rip current pulled them even farther from it.
Nicole said Dale told her, “Keep paddling. We’re almost there.”
Shanon Kissel said he reached the other boy – who was not identified – and pulled him onto his own board. He yelled at bystanders to call 911 and went to call for help himself.
When Kissel got back in the water he saw Nicole and Dale clinging to her board, turned sideways in rolling waves about 150 feet beyond the crashing surf. He was swimming out to the children when a wave knocked the pair off her board.
“She turns around to face him like she’s gonna go back after him,” Kissel said. “I had to tell her to get back on the board.”
She did, but Ostrander had disappeared.
Fire officials and other rescuers arrived. Some stood atop trucks, using binoculars to try to locate the boy. Members of Dale’s church group cried and prayed, kneeling in the sand.
Eddie Mendez, a volunteer water rescuer, was working his day job at a construction site when the emergency call came in. The 34-year-old immediately drove over to the beach and changed into a wet suit while his colleague launched two personal watercraft.
Mendez said he saw a shadow moving under the breaking water offshore, so he and a diver rushed over. They scanned the area for a few minutes before Mendez spotted the shadow again. They found the boy floating about two feet below the surface of the water.
As they pulled the boy on board, Mendez realized he was rescuing a child – about the age of his own daughter.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is like my own child,’ ” Mendez said.
Mendez drove the boy to the beach, where emergency responders began trying to revive him. There was no sign of life but they kept performing CPR as they transported him. Finally, after Dale reached a nearby hospital, his pulse returned.
Then Dale was flown from the southwest Washington coast to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. His parents were still steeling themselves for the worst.
“I expected to say our goodbyes and so did my wife, and we were just prepared for that,” Chad Ostrander said. But on Sunday night, as he was eased off sedatives, Dale opened his eyes.
“At that moment, that was the first glimmer of any hope,” his father said. “It didn’t mean he was going to make it. It just meant that there was hope.”
Dale starting talking on Monday. When his parents encouraged him to cough to clear his throat, he replied, “I don’t have to.”
Doctors have cautioned his parents that even if Dale survives, he could have permanent brain damage.
The physicians “were very clear that he had been under for too long, had been without oxygen for too long,” Kirsten Ostrander said. “We trust (God) no matter what.”
Dale will need speech and physical therapy, and can’t get out of his hospital bed yet, his father said.
“Things are going along better than anyone expected so at this point we’re very happy,” he said.
“Honestly, all of the doctors’ prospects are very negative. They’re very honest and blunt. But they said every once in a while there’s a miracle, and we don’t want to give up on that,” Ostrander said.