Quick thinking teen saves drowning toddler

 Quick thinking teen saves drowning toddler


Matthew Christenson, 13, didn’t set out to be a hero on Sept. 4, but that’s exactly what he is in the eyes of toddler Gavin Westcott’s parents, Gilliam and Dani.

The Westcott family live in Lakeside next door to Matthew and his parents, Dan Christenson and Kimberlee Stewart, and his brother Luke, 8. The Westcott’s two sons, Cameron, 8, and Gavin, 2, both enjoy swimming in their neighbor’s backyard in-ground pool and that’s where they all were on the Friday afternoon before the Labor Day weekend.

“We use the pool all the time,” said Dani Westcott. “Gav and his big brother were swimming until it was time for Cameron’s baseball practice, then we all went home to get ready.”

Perhaps the gate between the neighboring yards didn’t latch securely, but within a short time after his swim floaties were removed Gavin found his way back into the pool.

With the car running and everyone ready to go to baseball practice, both Gilliam and Dani realized neither one had Gavin in sight. Dani made several laps around the house and even looked over the fence into the pool, but didn’t see anything.

“I don’t know how many times I circled the house,” said Westcott, a nurse at Orange Park Medical Center. “There was not a long time lapse; there were three adults in the yard actively transitioning from the pool to the car.”

“I was on the phone talking to a friend about video games and decided to go swimming again,” said Matthew. “At first, when I saw Gavin, I didn’t think it was real, but I dropped the phone and grabbed him.”

The seventh grade student at Cedar Creek Christian School raced into the front yard with the toddler in his arms, yelling for Gavin’s father, Gilliam, who is an emergency room nurse at Memorial Hospital.

Gilliam Westcott immediately began administering CPR as Dani called 9-1-1. Soon Engine 14 and Rescue 23 showed up, where emergency medical technicians took over.

After spending a night at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Gavin was released the next day, and promptly went swimming.

“I’m so proud of Matthew. I’m still trying to figure out how to properly thank him,” said Gilliam Westcott on his Facebook page, “He carried my son to me blue to the core, not breathing and pulse-less. I’m not exaggerating when I say he saved his life.”

The incident was a wake-up call for both families, said Kimberlee Stewart, Matthew’s mother. She said Gilliam Westcott is putting together a CPR course for the neighborhood, and security measures are in place for the gates between the families’ homes.

Stewart also recommends infant swim self-rescue survival courses, which both her sons went through. “They have been swimming since they were less than a year old,” she said. “It was hard to swing the cost, but we felt that it was a priority.”

Matthew’s father said he is very proud of his son. “Not many people have the opportunity to do something as great as that, to save someone’s life,” said Dan Christenson.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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