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Nurse and Dentist Save Child from Near-Drowning
Hotter temperatures mean more kids heading to the pool

Editor’s Note: Those interested in setting up an interview can contact Tammie Epps at 803-434-4903 or

Heather Slater, R.N., works in the Pediatric Sedation Unit at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. Her training as a nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) certification prepared her to respond immediately when 8-year-old Michael Truesdale was pulled from the pool.

“It was Memorial weekend and our neighborhood pool was extremely crowded,” said Slater. “My 17-year-old daughter had left the pool to go to work and my 11-year-old son and my husband had already gone home. Our 6-year-old daughter was having so much fun in the pool that she begged me to stay just a little while longer.”

Slater was talking with friends, facing the shallow end of the pool. She heard someone yell, “Call 9-1-1” and then saw her friend, Joe Bonavilla, run toward the deeper end of the pool, where a woman was trying to pull an unconscious child from the water.

“The child had no pulse. Joe and I immediately began CPR. Joe did the breathing and I did the compressions. We did two breaths for every 15 compressions and finally were able to get some breathing back, along with a weak pulse,” said Slater.

While Slater and Bonavilla performed CPR, they tried to gather information about the child and what had happened. “I felt helpless waiting for paramedics to arrive. Even when the boy began breathing, he was still unresponsive. No one in the crowd could tell us if he had hit his head or been injured,” said Slater.

Moments later, Trish Truesdale’s cellphone rang and the caller asked, “Are you Michael’s mother? You need to get to the pool right away!”

Earlier that day, Truesdale, Michael and his 16-year-old sister had been invited to join friends who were attending a birthday party at the pool. Trish watched Michael play in the shallow end of the pool for about three hours. “There were lots of other parents around the shallow end and many children playing in the pool,” she said.

When Truesdale’s friend asked her to ride along to help pick up cookout supplies at a nearby grocery store, she was very reluctant to leave Michael. “I was assured by other adults that they would be right there watching him,” she said. “When I got that call, I immediately started screaming. I prayed all the way back to the pool.”

Michael was transported to Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital and taken to the Children’s Emergency Center’s Trauma bay to be evaluated by the Emergency Department (ED) team. He was intubated (put on a breathing machine) shortly after arrival due to his known near-drowning. The team of ED physicians, residents, nurses, respiratory therapists, (in partnership with the Adult Trauma team who respond to all pediatric traumas) worked quickly to evaluate and stabilize him. It was unclear whether he had a head injury, given his altered mental status. He was subsequently transferred to the care of the PICU team.

“When he was pulled from the pool, Michael’s skin was blue, his eyes were rolled back in his head and he had no pulse,” said Bonavilla. “Heather and I worked on him as if he were one of our own children. When he choked and gurgled up water, we continued administering pediatric life support until the first responders arrived.”

“No one really knows how long Michael was without oxygen,” said Elizabeth Mack, M.D., a critical care physician at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. When Mack arrived at the hospital Memorial Day morning, she removed the breathing tube, but noted that Michael still appeared very weak. “He hadn’t spoken to me at all, so after a few hours I asked him what he wanted to eat. He said one word—pizza.”

Further tests confirmed that Michael was comprehending and responding appropriately. “When he came off sedation, his first word was ‘Mama’ and he kept calling out for me,” said Truesdale. “He has told me he loves me a hundred times since this happened.” Michael was released from the hospital May 31 and returned to school for his final week of second grade.

Truesdale and her husband, Chris, are grateful for the expertise and immediate response of Slater and Bonavilla. “The fingerprints of God were here and I’m very thankful for these angels,” she said.

“There are so many lessons here,” said Mack. “Parents should make sure their children are taught to swim and we all need to be reminded that it only takes a moment for a tragedy to happen. It also is very important for adults, especially those with children, to have training in CPR. Pediatric resuscitation is quite different from CPR for adults.”

Slater had just recertified her PALS training in early May. Bonavilla, an endodontist, had taken a CPR recertification course last summer. Bonavilla and his wife, Kristen, are the parents of five children. His three-week-old son, Michael, was baptized just hours before he and Slater helped save the life of Michael Truesdale. “Water can turn a life around or take a life away,” said Bonavilla. “The grace of God brought this child back. Heather and I were just the instruments.”


CPR and BLS Classes
The Palmetto Health-USC School of Medicine Simulation Center offers several classes open to the public. American Heart Association CPR and BLS (Basic Life Support) classes are offered weekly on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons; cost is $75. Heart Saver CPR classes are offered two Tuesday afternoons each month; cost is $50. All classes begin at 1:30 p.m. and course materials and a certification card are included. For more information or to register for a course, call 803-296-CARE (2273).

About Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital
Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital was South Carolina’s first pediatric hospital and celebrates its 30th birthday this year. Each year, Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital treats more than 80,000 sick and injured children. As a major pediatric referral center, Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital maintains more than 30 medical subspecialties devoted strictly to children. For more information, visit