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Near-Fatal Drowning Incident : A Happy Thankgiving That Almost Wasn't

November 27, 1986|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

EL MIRAGE, Calif. — There will be nothing outwardly remarkable about Thanksgiving this year for Cindy and Ron Dunlop and their 19-month-old daughter, Kyla.

But many people think it's a miracle the family is even together. Just seven weeks ago Cindy Dunlop, who is paralyzed and in a wheelchair, saved her daughter from drowning in the backyard pool.

"This year at Thanksgiving we'll be glad that Kyla's with us," she said. "I think in terms of the fact that I could have lost her. She was almost gone when I got to her. But we were both fine. She's special to us because I wasn't supposed to have a baby and she came out so pretty and stuff. She was already special."

Kyla's rescue brought reporters to their desert ranch in this remote San Bernardino County desert community, about 45 miles northeast of Los Angeles; camera crews asked her to re-enact the incident and reported it in an awed tone. But the Dunlops still can't figure out what all the fuss is about.

"We thought, 'What the heck is going on?' Cindy's husband, Ron, said when the couple became bombarded by interview requests two days after the event. "What's the big deal? Granted, it was something very special that she did, but it wasn't to us that big a deal."

"We had to take ourselves out of the situation," Cindy said, "and look at it from the perspective of somebody who doesn't live with someone handicapped to see that it is something spectacular."

The 29-year-old woman has been in a wheelchair for 12 years, the result of a car crash that sent her Jeep over a cliff and left her with multiple internal injuries.

Despite that, she swims, rides horses and runs a household.

Cindy recounts the near-fatal drowning incident matter-of-factly, the result of having told it so many times to so many people. On Tuesday, Oct. 7, Cindy Dunlop was in the garage talking on the phone and heard a splash in the pool; she didn't think much of it at the time since Cruiser, the family springer spaniel, routinely went for swims.

But she decided to check anyway. Making her way to the pool she saw Kyla floating face-down, with Cruiser pawing at her.

"I was so calm," she said. "I wanted to panic, but I knew I had to stay calm until my daughter was safe. I never doubted that I could do something like that. When I saw her floating I didn't think, 'Oh no, I can't get to her.' I just knew I could and had to."

Cindy swims regularly but always gets in and out the pool with assistance. With no real plan in mind for going in this time, she headed for the pool and plunged in, chair and all. She swam over to Kyla, pulled her out of the pool and performed mouth-to-mouth resucitation. "I'd never taken CPR before," she said. "I just pinched her nose and blew into her mouth." Kyla started breathing.

"I got her out, then I got out. But for some reason I got out on the wrong side of the pool, on the corner where I always get out. I must have subconsciously gone to that corner. I looked around and saw she was on the other side of the pool. So I had to crawl to her."

Then Cindy crawled into the house and called 911 for an emergency ambulance. But after she gave her address, Cindy said, the line went dead. "I kept saying, 'Hello, is anybody there?' But it was just dead. I thought they were supposed to stay on the line. So then I called Ron, and he called a neighbor who came up, got Kyla and me dressed, and then she called 911 again. They said they were waiting for us to call back because they were lost. It was 30 to 45 minutes before they got here."

The Dunlops blame the delay partly on the fact that their neighborhood streets are not marked properly, and had been renamed by the county not long ago.

"You don't think about this at the time, but later you think, what if I couldn't have gotten her breathing? She would have been dead 45 minutes before the ambulance got here."

Cindy was treated at the local hospital for cuts on her feet and arms; Kyla was up and around soon after as if nothing had happened. The baby sustained no injuries from the accident, and the only change Cindy has noticed is that Kyla sometimes becomes anxious about having water in her face when she bathes. Otherwise the little girl, affectionately nicknamed Stinky by her father, is a bundle of energy.

Life with the Dunlops, meanwhile, is returning to normal. Interviewers have come and gone, leaving them with videotape segments of Cindy's appearances on TV shows and some newspaper clippings they're saving for Kyla.

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