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‘Knowing Better’ Isn’t a Guarantee

When it was happening, it really couldn’t have been, could it? “Everything will be fine ,” Dianne Bordeaux remembers telling herself.

Even when she’d called 911, while she was still screaming out the front door for somebody to please help, for somebody who knew CPR, she thought, “ Of course , it will be all right.” It is not.

Jennifer Hope Dawson, 3 years old this past May, is in Dianne’s arms now. The accident , as it is known around here, was five months ago. Jennifer nearly drowned in her family’s back-yard pool.

Now her dark eyes are wide, as they usually are, and her little body stiff. She cannot talk or move. Her feeding tube has been disconnected from her stomach for the moment, to make her less awkward to hold. Her hands, their fingernails dabbed in red polish, are limp.

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Sometimes Jennifer cries, without any tears.

“She blinked!” Dianne says, seconds after a camera flashes. “Did you see that?”

This is good news. It fuels a mother’s hope.

“You just wish you could make it never happen to anybody again,” this mother says a little while later. Her smiles has now faded to sad.

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“When she was 2 1/2, she knew the name of every President who was on a bill. You’d say, ‘Who’s on this bill? Who’s on that?’ and she’d tell you. Before she was 1, she knew the alphabet. She knew every shape: hexagon, octagon, everything. She was intelligent and perfect. And she knew better.”

They all did. Dianne Bordeaux, 27 years old, went out of her way to know better. She completed a course in infant CPR. She made her home child-safe, crawling around on her knees plugging electric sockets, hoping to put danger out of her childrens’ reach.

Her family never had a pool, not until they moved into a fixer-upper near Valencia. Dianne knew the risks. She had decided to stay with her parents in Huntington Beach until a pool cover could be installed.

But Jennifer didn’t want to miss a Valentine’s Day party at her preschool near the family’s new home. So they moved in a day before the cover arrived via UPS. Dianne’s husband and his friend would install it the day after that. They would have a barbecue, all of them together, first.

Except everything went wrong. It went way, way too fast, like something you read about happening to somebody else, somebody you would never know. Even though you read about it happening all the time.

Jennifer’s tricycle went over the side. Maybe it was the puppy nipping at her feet, chasing her around the pool’s edge. Maybe it was Dianne’s niece, 12 years old, who had opened that heavy sliding glass door to the outside. There was no way Jennifer could make it budge herself.

Nobody heard a sound.

“My husband came in from the garage and says, ‘Where’s Jennifer?’ ” Dianne says. “I said, ‘Where is Jennifer?’ I was in the kitchen, getting everything ready for the barbecue. Jennifer was playing her Video Smarts. She had just come over and hugged my leg and said, ‘I love you, Mommy!”’

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Jennifer’s doctors, the ones who had seen this all before, told Dianne that she should let her daughter die. They were surprised that the little girl’s heart still beat. When she arrived by helicopter at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles, she was blue, with no pulse. She was revived twice.

The doctors predicted she had only 12 more hours to live.

When Jennifer hung on, the doctors showed Dianne slides of what would happen to her little girl, the beauty who was crowned Baby Miss Orange County in 1989, if she did not do as they thought best. It will only get worse, they said. Brain damage does horrible things. They are unpleasant to see, nearly impossible to live with.

The phrase that everybody kept repeating was quality of life .

Dianne Bordeaux said no, and once removed from life support, Jennifer breathed on her own. A miracle, is what Dianne says.

“I would talk to her all the time,” she says. “I would tell her to be brave, just like Brave Heart Lion on the Care Bears. I would tell her to be like the lion on ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I would tell her that we have a lot of things to do, that we are going to the zoo, that she has to see Jasmine and Danny and that she’s got to go to school. And it was real hard.”

Mother and daughter and baby sister Kori, 6 months old, live now at Dianne’s parents’ home, because this is the place where Jennifer always felt best. Dianne, her mother and sister care for Jennifer themselves. Dianne’s husband, Jennifer’s stepfather, visits when he can.

The couple returned their Valencia home to the previous owners, taking a huge loss. Dianne has never gone back, not even to thank her two neighbors who gave Jennifer CPR. She can’t talk to her niece. She feels a lot of guilt. Perhaps her daughter was underwater five minutes, maybe more.

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“I don’t think I chose for her to live,” Dianne says. “I think she did. I knew she was fighting. She loves life. How can I take that away from her? She had her chance to go and she came back. So I’m going to help her every step of the way.”

Come what may.


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