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VALLEY FOCUS | Canoga Park

Rescuer Watches as Boy She Saved Plays

September 03, 1998|SUE FOX

Two days after she pumped life back into the tiny heart of Tito Rafael Munoz, 14-year-old Sofya Kagan looked on Wednesday as the boy raced happily across the living room of his Winnetka apartment.

Tito, who will turn 3 this month, nearly drowned in a swimming pool Monday afternoon at the International Village apartment complex in Canoga Park, where Sofya lives. She and her mother, Yelena Kagan, heard women screaming near the pool and rushed outside. By the time they reached the boy, he had no pulse and was not breathing.

"I didn't think he was going to make it," Sofya said. The teenager, who took a class in cardiopulmonary resuscitation last year as an eighth-grader at Madison Middle School, said she wants to become a doctor.

Kagan's mother, a former gynecologist, gave Tito mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while Sofya tried to revive his heartbeat. Although he showed no sign of life after about 10 minutes, Sofya said she never considered giving up.

"Every kid deserves a chance," she said. "We couldn't just leave him there and have him dying in our arms."

Tito's mother, Vilma Alvarez, said she had taken the boy and his four brothers and sisters to visit friends at the International Village apartments. She was feeding her baby near the pool while the other children swam.

Alvarez's friend, Magda Ajzip, said the pool was crowded with children and several adults at the time of the accident. The group's attention was apparently focused on Ajzip's daughter, who had just learned to swim, when someone spotted Tito floating face down in the water.

Later, the boy told Alvarez that he remembered choking on water and trying to call for help, Alvarez said. Doctors told her that his recovery was a miracle.

"I saw my little one completely dead," she said softly. "I can't believe he's alive. I don't know how to repay them for saving my boy."

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