March 5, 2008 Edition

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Miracle rescue saves baby's life

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

Gracelynn "Gracie" McBroom, the 10-month-old daughter of Tiffany Ishmael and Joe McBroom of Lawrence County, is recovering at Arkansas Children's Hospital after a near fatal car crash on Feb. 17.

Ishmael was traveling on Highway 230, near the border of Craighead and Lawrence counties when she lost control of her vehicle. The car flipped, striking a guardrail, and landed upside down in Gum Slough Ditch, a run-off of Cache River. Gracelynn was strapped into her car seat in the rear of the vehicle.

Christian Emerson, who works at St. Bernards as a registered technician in the non-invasive cardiovascular/pulmonary department, saw the car and called 911. She said she saw a woman come up out of the water and went to her assistance. "She was screaming that her baby was still in the car," Emerson said.

When Jessie Martin of Alicia arrived on the scene, the car was almost completely submerged in the ice cold water in the ditch. He joined the two women and began rescue attempts but was unable to recover the child.

Cpl. Doug Thomas of the Arkansas State Police arrived on the scene a few minutes later, and he and Martin continued attempts to find the baby inside the car. Thomas said that the car's roof had been dented in by the guardrail, which hampered their attempts.

Thomas, fearing the worst, said he led Ishmael away from the car. In the meantime, Richard Alls of Walnut Ridge, who lives near Egypt, and Egypt Mayor Don Scruggs arrived at the scene and joined Martin in the water.

Scruggs said he had heard the call go across the scanner and immediately drove to the site of the accident. When he arrived, Martin and Alls were already in the water. Scruggs said he noticed that the car was slanted nose down and asked the others if they could turn the car over to give them better access. Thomas said he saw them attempting to lift the vehicle but noticed that the car was trying to float away.

"We were attempting to turn the car over, but we just couldn't do it," Scruggs said. "I saw this uniform sleeve come over my shoulder and grab the car and begin to push, and all of a sudden the car rolled over on its side.

"I climbed up on the car and stuck my head into the window, which had broken during the crash, and felt around trying to reach the baby. The car was still mostly under water. It took me several times, but finally I felt the straps of the car seat," he said.

Scruggs asked for a knife and Thomas gave him one. Scruggs cut the straps and saw the child's arm float up in the water. "I yelled at Doug to get ready to do CPR and lifted the baby out of the car window."

"This is a story of links in a chain," Thomas said. "As we were struggling to get Gracelynn out of the car, Pamela Harris had stopped to offer assistance and joined Christian Emerson in performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Gracie. We heard her begin to cough up the water that was in her lungs. If we all hadn't been there this would not have turned out the way it did."

Gracie was transported by ambulance to St. Bernards, where she was treated and then airlifted to Children's Hospital in Little Rock. She remains a patient there.

"I was a fireman for 28 years," Scruggs said. "This was the best rescue I've ever seen. A bunch of strangers all worked together and saved a life. It was a miracle."

Thomas said that when an officer shows up at an emergency, people expect him to do whatever it takes to do the job. "I can't say enough about the people who stopped to offer their help. These guys were there because they wanted to help, not because they were on the job."

"Gracie received a cat scan and an MRI on Monday and the report was good," Scruggs said. "They showed no brain damage. She will still be in the hospital for a month, but she is doing really well."

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