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Near-drowning a harrowing experience for family

8/28/2013

By KALEY CONNER

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

RUSSELL -- Serinity Towery -- a 2-year-old girl with big brown eyes and a quick smile -- ran happily around her Russell home, playing with toys, sipping her juice and affectionately hugging her 11-year-old stepsister, Emily Butler.

It's hard to believe the seemingly healthy toddler nearly drowned two weeks ago.

But she did. And she's just fine now, thanks in large part to Emily.

"I found her on the bottom, so I went in the water, picked her up and started doing CPR," Emily Butler said.

It happened at a friend's birthday party in a Russell hotel. The children were playing in the pool, and despite several adults being close by, Serinity managed to slip into the water without being seen.

It was a terrible accident, said her mother, Rikki Krejci.

"You see stuff like this all the time on the news, and you never think that's going to happen to your kid until it happens," she said. "When you're watching it about someone else, you're like, 'Well, where were the parents?' Because I'm one of those people.

"And then it happens to you, and you're in their shoes, and you're like, 'We were right there.' But we turned our heads for literally one second."

Krejci and David Towery soon discovered their daughter was missing, and that's when the search began. Emily was the first to see her stepsister, hunched over under the water. By that time, the child had been in the pool for more than three minutes.

The fifth-grade student at Bickerdyke Elementary School managed to keep calm and think fast. She quickly dove under the water, grabbed her sister and began doing chest compressions by the side of the pool.

She immediately was joined by her parents, who instructed onlookers to call an ambulance. Towery took the blue, limp child from Emily's arms and continued doing CPR, with help from a family friend, until the child began to breathe.

"I was scared," Butler said. "When David took her, I started crying."

The child was rushed to Russell Regional Hospital, where a few cups of water were removed from her stomach, Krejci said. Those early moments are something the family likely never will forget.

"They're telling us, 'Anything you want to tell her, tell her now; she can hear you,' " Krejci said, breaking down in tears. "I spent like 10 minutes singing her the Itsby Bitsy Spider song and telling her how she needed to come back home."

Serinity was life-watched to Via Christi hospital in Wichita, where a CT scan revealed there was minimal damage. There was no swelling on her brain, not even water in her lungs -- though she did suffer some inflammation from the chlorine in the pool.

The child recovered rapidly and was able to have all of her tubes removed within 24 hours. Krejci was playing the theme song from Serinity's favorite show, "SpongeBob SquarePants," on her phone, and when the child regained consciousness, she began mouthing the words to the song, her mother said.

"The first words out of her mouth were 'juice,' 'Mom,' 'Dad' and 'SpongeBob,' " Krejci said with a chuckle.

The family was able to return home 41 hours later. As they left the hospital, the toddler began jumping through the puddles accumulating from a heavy rain shower, she said. Serinity continues to have follow-up medical examinations, but she seems to have made a full recovery, her mother said, noting the medical staff was surprised how quickly the child came to.

"I'll say this until my last day on Earth," Krejci said. "If you've ever had a doubt that miracles can happen or that God actually takes over and lets you know it's not your time, you should have seen what we saw."

And as for Emily, the girl has become a local hero. She heard her mother, a trained medical assistant, explain how to do CPR just a week before the incident. She also remembered seeing CPR in a scene from a "Harry Potter" movie, she said.

She has recorded an account of the incident in her diary, so her stepsister can read it in years to come.

"Nurses and doctors and everyone said, 'If it weren't for her doing what she did, if it wasn't for her pulling her out and pushing that initial water out of her like she did, it probably would have been worse,' " Kerejci said. "There probably would have been more damage."