Cries spurred septic rescue

Chelsea Cunningham was eating some lunch on Saturday in Maricopa, Arizona when a mother’s screams distracted her and caused her to investigate their source.

Chelsea Cunningham was eating some lunch on Saturday in Maricopa, Arizona when a mother’s screams distracted her and caused her to investigate their source.

The 28-year-old from Sundre thought maybe a fight was going on or someone had cut themselves and could use a hand.

But those screams were the result of that mother’s two-year-old daughter having fallen through a broken covering into a septic tank, where she spent four minutes nearly drowning before a hot dog vendor who had been working nearby pulled her out.

Cunningham then grabbed the tot, discoloured from her lack of oxygen, and performed some 10 minutes of CPR, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and first aid on the child. The girl was given life, thanks to the efforts of the visiting Canadian, the hot dog vendor, and another man who helped out — an ex-con only two weeks out of jail.

A life was saved, and Cunningham was glad. But she was not able to finish her lunch.

“The worst part, after they got her in the ambulance, is I totally tasted it. I’m like ‘Oh, she was in a sewage tank. Didn’t really notice that part before,’” laughed Cunningham over the phone from Arizona.

The Central Alberta rancher, singer, and mother of three was called something else on Tuesday — a hero, by the Pinal County sheriff, who presented her and the other two rescuers with Life Saving Awards. While saying she wasn’t sure she deserved the honour, Cunningham did say it was a cool experience to be a part of.

In homeschooling her sons, Cunningham does skits and roleplays to teach them many things, including first aid. While she learned CPR herself years ago, Saturday was the first time she had to use it.

“You know what the numbers are and you just do them. You look for vitals, you look for breathing and you set her up properly and just get to work,” she said.

Cunningham said though it took a while before the child was able to take any breaths, she always believed the child had a chance.

“You just keep going. You keep going and it’ll work. We started to get a breath after about three minutes or maybe even less. She took a couple of breaths and then she expelled quite a bit of fluid, so obviously I stopped CPR and got her on her side.

“At that point she was able to take a few breaths and then her heartbeat came. We lost the heartbeat again and then got it back. There was some in-and-out there a bit,” she said.

Cunningham, her husband and sons are roping and spending time in southern Arizona for the first time, their decision to sell their cattle herd in the summer allowing them to spend time away from home this winter. After Arizona, Cunningham is heading to Argentina on an agricultural tour, before returning home to Central Alberta in March.

She laughed and said after her exploits this week, she will probably be invited back to spend next winter in Arizona too.

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