Fullerton Girl, Listed as Drowned, Revives

Times Staff Writers

A Fullerton toddler whom a hospital pronounced dead from drowning in a backyard pool Friday was discovered breathing 40 minutes later, authorities said.

A police detective was taking pictures of 20-month-old Mackayala Jespersen at Anaheim Memorial Hospital, a routine police procedure in child deaths, when he noticed the girl trying to breathe, said police Sgt. Ron Gillett. The detective immediately alerted doctors, who resuscitated the girl.

"It was a very emotional moment for everyone," Gillett said. "We thought she didn't make it and then she did. It was the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs."

Gillett said Mackayala showed a strong pulse Friday evening, but could not provide further details. At the girl's house on West Baker Avenue, a man who identified himself as the child's grandfather said, "We don't know if it is a miracle yet, she is doing as good as she can."

Mark Langdorf, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UCI, said it is not uncommon for infant and toddler drowning victims to survive after showing little or no sign of life, especially when it happens in cold water, but the amount of time that passed before Mackayala was revived was exceptional.

"If you had said she came back to life after 10 minutes I would be surprised," he said, "but 40 minutes, that's just amazing."

Langdorf fears, however, that the girl may have suffered long-term brain damage.

Gillett said Mackayala's mother was looking after the girl and her twin sister Friday morning. The mother left the children unattended for about 10 minutes to wake another daughter, a 4-year-old.

When she returned to the living room, she noticed one of the twins by the sliding screen door. The door was slightly ajar and Mackayala was missing.

"It is the kind of scene that sends a shiver up your spine," Gillett said.

The mother found Mackayala face down in the family's backyard pool.

She jumped in the water and pulled the little girl out. She called 911.

It was 9:06 a.m.

Fullerton police responded within two minutes, Gillett said. The officers found the girl lifeless and began CPR. The paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and took Mackayala -- still not breathing -- to the hospital.

There, emergency room staff failed to revive the girl, Gillett said. Doctors pronounced her dead at 10:06 a.m.

It was nearly three-quarters of an hour before the Fullerton detective was taking pictures of the girl's body -- and noticed the steady billowing of her chest.

He summoned doctors.

She was breathing again at 10:46 a.m., Gillett said -- nearly two hours after she fell in the pool. The toddler was transferred to Children's Hospital of Orange County and was listed in critical condition, said Susan Thomas, a hospital spokeswoman.

Though the length of time involved is unusual, there have been several reported cases of adults and children reviving after being declared dead.

On Jan. 7, 2002, a woman in her 50s was reported breathing about 20 minutes after being pronounced dead at a hospital in central Japan. The next month, in Brooklyn, N.Y., a woman pronounced dead in her apartment by paramedics was later found to have a faint pulse and was revived at a hospital.

The pronouncement of death is a judgment doctors make based on signs such as lack of reflexes, breathing or a heartbeat, Langdorf said. In rare cases where patients do come back, they often linger in a vegetative state, he said.

Still, Langdorf said, "If someone is moving [after being declared dead] you have to give the patient every chance."

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