CHICAGO – One minute, 6-year-old Nathan Woess-ner was scampering up a massive dune in northern Indiana with his dad and a friend. He was gone the next, without a warning or sound.
More than three hours later, rescuers pulled Nathan out from under 11 feet of sand on Friday. He showed no signs of life: He was cold to the touch, had no pulse and wasn’t breathing. His limp body was put into the back of a pickup truck, which started toward a waiting ambulance.
The plan was to take him to the hospital rather than the coroner’s office, even if he was dead, in order to “give the family and rescue workers hope,” La Porte (Ind.) County Chief Deputy Coroner Mark Huffman said Monday.
As the truck bounced over the dune, a medic noticed something astonishing: The boy took a breath. Then, the cut on his head started bleeding. The jolt apparently shocked Nathan’s body back to life, Huffman said. Nathan was rushed to the hospital and was crying in the emergency room when Huffman arrived a few minutes later.
“Man, I tell you that was such a great feeling,” Huffman said. “This is not something that I as the chief deputy coroner get to report that often. It’s an absolute miracle this child survived.”
Nathan, of Sterling, Ill., remains in critical condition at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, but he is expected to recover and be released in 10 to 14 days, Dr. Tracy Koogler said Monday.
Michigan City, Ind., firefighters soon arrived and excavating companies brought backhoes and other heavy equipment to try to catch up with the boy, who was still sinking into the sand. According to media reports, the first responders pushed a rod down into the sand in the hopes of finding the boy.
Hours passed without a sign of Nathan.
Then, volunteer firefighter Ryan Miller spotted the outline of what looked like a rotten tree about 11 feet down — maybe more — and pushed the rod until it stopped at the boy. Michigan City firefighter Brad Kreighbaum reached down and “felt what he believed to be Nathan’s head,” Miller said.
It was just in time, as there was no air pocket surrounding Nathan.
“He was fully encapsulated in sand,” Miller said, noting it took about five firefighters to pull him out.
He was airlifted to the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital from an Indiana hospital Friday night.
Doctors said early neurological tests didn’t reveal any brain damage; Nathan can move his arms, legs, fingers and toes.
In six months, Koogler said, ‘I’m hoping that he’s going to be acting like a normal 6- to 7-year-old, riding a bicycle, doing what a normal 6- or 7-year-old does.”