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'I just did what I could'; 18-year-old saves drowning teen

June 22, 2011 at 1:22 a.m.
Updated June 24, 2011 at 1:24 a.m.

Steven De La Rosa, 17, motions toward his 1-year-old sister, Kinsley Gilliam, while his brother, Brandon De La Rosa, 14, and Victoria Police Department officer Cody Breunig look on. Bruenig came to visit Steven at his home in Hallettsville after the officer helped revive the boy when he nearly drowned  in Victoria.

LEARN HOW TO SAVE A LIFECPR instruction is provided through the Red Cross at 2805 North Navarro Street #500. For more information, call: 361-573-2671

Most people die once. Steven De La Rosa, 17, of Hallettsville died twice in one day.

Steven experienced a seizure while swimming in the pool with his girlfriend, Alex Dodds, 20, of Hallettsville, which caused him to knock his head on the side of the pool and lose consciousness June 4.

Adrian Verduzco, 18, of Victoria, ran outside when he heard Alex screaming, "Help me! Steven's unconscious at the bottom of the pool!"

Adrian dove into the pool and pulled out Steven by his shoulders, yelling for someone to call 911.

Adrian laid Steven on the side of the pool. Steven's eyes rolled toward the back of his head, he was unable to breathe and was turning blue.

Adrian had not been formally trained in CPR, but the 911 dispatcher on the phone walked him through how to check Steven's airways, then perform chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

It was the most surreal moment in Adrian's life - being in the right place at the right time to save a perfect stranger's life.

"It was definitely something new to me," Adrian said. "I never thought I'd have to do that."

The Victoria police responded to a call that a boy had been underwater for several minutes. Arriving in about five minutes, they found Steven not breathing and his pulse had stopped.

Victoria Patrol Officer Cody Breunig took over performing CPR from Adrian. A firefighter established an airway, and Steven was revived.

Emergency Medical Service personnel treated Steven pool-side for about 20 minutes, his mother, Nicole Gilliam, said.

When they transported him to the ambulance, Steven lost all signs of life again and had to be revived a second time, Gilliam said.

Steven was transported to DeTar Hospital Navarro.

The first couple of nights after the accident were sleepless for Adrian and Steven's family.

Steven's mother said she was grateful Adrian had the presence of mind to dive in after her son.

"Adrian was not a close friend of Steven," Gilliam said. "He just did what he had to for a stranger."

Adrian received updates on Steven's condition through texts and Facebook posts from Steven's sister, Michelle Ryba, 20.

Once at the hospital, the doctors put Steven in a medically induced coma to sedate him and a paralytic state to preserve his brain tissue.

Gilliam was told this was to help preserve Steven's energy for recovery. Steven was also put in restraints to keep him from removing his breathing tubes and IV.

During the six days Steven was in a coma, the doctors encouraged the family to minimize stimulation to speed up recovery.

But Gilliam said she wanted her son to know his family was there and wanted him to get better, so she held his hand and talked to him. Gilliam encouraged Steven to raise his eyebrows if he could hear her.

On the sixth day of the coma, Steven did raise his eyebrows after being asked, and the doctors began lowering the paralytic state.

CPR from Adrian and the emergency personnel did save Steven's life, but the pressure caused his neck to swell. The doctors waited for this swelling to go down before removing the tubes, draining the blood and fluid from Steven's lungs and moving him to a private room for observation.

After 10 days when Steven woke up in the hospital, he had no idea how he had gotten there. He gleaned bits and pieces, but it wasn't until he got home from the hospital on June 15 that he heard the whole story.

Gilliam called Adrian two or three days after the accident to thank him for saving her son's life.

Adrian spoke with Steven for the first time on June 17 via Facebook.

"It was a really good feeling knowing he was alive and OK," Adrian said.

Steven said he owes his life to Adrian, but Adrian doesn't see it that way.

"I just did what I could," Adrian said.

Although the former lifeguard is a little wary of water, Steven still plans to work at Splashway Water Park behind the scenes, possibly helping with wrist bands or working concession stands.

"I know this experience is going to affect my choices and my decisions more than anything else I've ever gone through," Steven said.

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