Toddler who survived near drowning wakes up with power of speech

Catalina Ackers

SEATTLE -- A West Seattle family says their 2-year-old child survived a near drowning over the weekend, and what happened afterwards borders on the unbelievable.

"Just to see her laying there not moving was, there are no words to see your child like that. Not at all, not at all," said Natalie Holiday.

Holiday hasn't left Seattle Children's Hospital since Saturday afternoon, when her 2-year-old girl Catalina Ackers slipped out of their home and into a neighborhood retention pond in the High Point neighborhood.

It was moving day and the family was moving down the street to a new house. Holiday said she went upstairs for a minute came back down and sensed something was wrong.

"It happened in an instant," she said.

She called 911 and the family fanned out in all directions, but it was her 12-year-old son Ethan who spotted his baby sister.

"He saw her pink shirt and she was floating face down in the water," Holiday said.

Ethan dove into the pond, got Catalina and carried her to the sidewalk above the pond.

"I heard a kid scream, not the kind of scream when kid's are playing but a hearty scream," said neighbor Stephen Schwab.

That blood-curdling scream prompted Schwab into action. He had Ethan call 911 and got to work trying to save Catalina.

"I started doing CPR," Schwab said. "She was limp and her eyes closed."

At first he couldn't find a pulse. He tried chest compressions and then mouth-to-mouth. Several attempts triggered only a faint pulse.

"By that time, it wasn't too long when the officer showed up and he just took over and I was like, OK," said Schwab.

The Seattle Police officer's CPR did the trick and Catalina spit up water and started crying. Only then did Natalie think her baby girl would survive.

But surviving is an understatement.

"Her big brown doe eyes are just sparkling, she's back, she's back," Natalie remembered thinking when Catalina came out of sedation a day earlier than expected.

And then something else happened that Natalie will never forget. Catalina, a child who has never spoken a word, started talking.

"She is speaking clear language, words. So something clicked, her face is the same, but as her mother she is a different child," Natalie said.

Natalie says Catalina is developmentally delayed and her motor skills are challenged. She says Catalina would gesture to communicate, but up until now she could only say the alphabet and some numbers.

Since coming out of sedation, she hasn't stopped talking and her first word on her first day of talking were a gift that every parent waits for.

"The first thing she said when she came out of sedation was 'mommy' the very first time," Natalie said.

Natalie got another piece of good news on Monday. Doctors originally thought Catalina would still be sedated Monday, but she was released from Children's Monday afternoon.

Her mom doesn't know what triggered her speech, but insists it doesn't matter.

"Nothing has worked, nothing has worked," she said. "It's just an amazing feeling to have your daughter say mommy."

The family is planning a meeting to thank their neighbor and the Seattle Police officer who saved their girl.

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