It started out as any typical holiday weekend for a group of friends and family who decided to go camping and floating.
Things took a turn for the worse and the unimaginable happened when 10-year-old Reese Tiefenauer of Farmington nearly lost her life Saturday evening.
Reese is still in ICU at Children’s Hospital, but she is now breathing on her own. They removed the ventilator Tuesday morning that was helping her breathe and she appears to be making a recovery.
According to a press release from the Frankiln County Sheriff’s office, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department responded to the Meramec State Campground located in Sullivan about 5 p.m. for a possible drowning. Franklin County deputies, Sullivan Fire personnel and MOBAP EMS all were called to the scene.
The reporting parties and victim were found on the gravel bar. Resuscitation efforts were taken over by MOBAP ambulance and Sullivan Fire and she was transported back to the boat launch area.
Reese was transferred to an ARCH helicopter for transport to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. The incident was investigated by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office with the assistance of Missouri State Water Patrol.
Farmington resident Jason Randolph was enjoying the weekend just like everyone else when the tragedy struck. He said they had floated down the river on Friday and it went so well that they decided to go out again on Saturday.
“Everything was fine on Friday and when we went out Saturday I knew right away that the water level had significantly lowered and it had cleared up,” said Randolph. “We thought it was going to be way better than the day before. We were not quite halfway through the float and there was a short bend where the river narrowed really quickly and funneled into the bend. The current increased dramatically and as soon as we got through there I saw a log across the water.”
Randolph said that because of the way the log was across the water there was only about a five foot passage on the right. He added that he started yelling at everyone to break apart so they would be able to get through the area.
“The river naturally takes you to the left and my wife, Mindy, and I had problems maneuvering through,” said Randolph. “I got tangled in some rope and went about a 100 yards down river. Lindsay Govero, who was on a raft with Reese and Skylar, jumped off and tried pulling them through the opening. Her head smashed in between a tree limb that was sticking up and the force of the river was pushing the rest of the group into her.”
During that time the raft with the little girls on it flew up and another member of the group started shouting asking where the girls were. Randolph said he was struggling to get out of the water at the time because his legs were tangled in the ropes.
“My nephew came and pulled me out,” said Randolph. “Skylar popped up out of the river and took a huge gasp of air. She had been caught under the water by the log and then the attention went to Reese. Lindsay was still hanging onto that log and she was looking for Reese. That’s when I heard her yell that she could see her and that she was caught on the log under water.”
Randolph said that he was completely out of breathe from what he went through, but he ran upriver 25 yards and swam across, letting the current bring him down to the log. He said he made it to the log on his first try and when he got there he held onto a tree branch pushing himself under.
“I saw her and her legs and life jacket were twisted in the tree limbs,” said Randolph. “By that time, my brother-in-law Mick Carlyon was beside me. I went back down again to make sure I knew what we needed to do. I told him to get on the other side to work on her life jacket and I would get her legs. I told Mindy to get on the bank and be ready for Reese. She is a nurse practitioner at Parkland Hospital.”
Randolph said Reese was probably about three or four feet underwater facedown, which made it even more difficult to free her. Randolph said that once he was able to get her legs free she popped up to about a foot under water and Mick was able to finish removing her from her lifejacket. The area of water where they rescued Reese from was over their heads and Randolph said he never felt the bottom.
“We never did get the lifejacket free from the tree limbs, we had to take her out of it,” said Randolph. “Brock McMahan swam over and pulled her to shore where Mindy and Lindsey started CPR. Once Mick and I were able to recover we made it back to the shore and started helping with compressions.”
Randolph said he noticed that Reese’s belly was bloated and he pushed the water out of her stomach. He added that they had her on her side to clear the airway out and once that was done they resumed CPR.
When Reese was brought to the shore she was unresponsive and had spent nearly 15 minutes under water. Randolph’s cell phone was used to call 911. He said it was fortunate that he knew the exact location they were at, which his nephew relayed to the dispatcher.
“After we were able to get the water out of her belly and continued with the CPR, her color started returning and she started coughing,” said Randolph. “We knew we were making progress, but she still couldn’t breathe on her own.”
Randolph pointed out even though his cell phone had no service, it would still reach 911 if an emergency call was made. He said water rescue showed up and took over. Once they had her heart rate stabilized, they took her on a jet boat to the Meramec State Park boat ramp where an ambulance was waiting.
“A Children’s helicopter landed in the parking lot there and flew her to Children’s Hospital,” said Randolph. “There were a lot of kids there that we had to get away during the course of the rescue and after the water rescue left we sat and talked about it with them for about an hour. We were stuck out there and still had to float back after all that. It was a pretty quiet float the rest of the way.”
Randolph said with no cell service they had no idea what was going on and they were desperate to know. He added that after two and half days in the hospital Reese is now breathing on her own, talking and bossing everyone around. She is able to follow commands and move all her body parts at the doctor’s request.
“We went up there Monday to visit her and it is just amazing the fight she has in her,” said Randolph. “For her to fight back the way she did on that riverbank and to fight at the hospital to be at the point she is at two and a half days later. It is just amazing. With no damage — it’s incredible. We received word that her CAT scan came back clean with no signs of brain damage.”
Randolph said there were four people involved in the rescue and he doesn’t know what any of them were going through. He added that they all played an important part in the rescue.
“It wasn’t just me, it was all of us that saved her,” said Randolph. “We were standing on tree limbs and reaching down trying to dislodge her from the branches. We all reacted and didn’t even have to communicate what needed to be done, we just knew our part. What we did, I would think anybody would do it without thinking about it.”
Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or email@example.com