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Trapped in Icy Waters

Michelle Wilson - 700 Club Producer

911 Dispatch: Fire and ambulance, where is your emergency?”

Caller: “I don’t know where I am exactly. I’m at Lake Saint Louis.”

The caller was 16-year-old Jamie Rieger. Her brother Joshua and two of his friends had fallen through the frozen lake in their neighborhood.

“They were bobbing up and down and he went under a few times,” says Jamie.  

Joshua Sander says, “When I fell through the ice it was like really cold and I actually thought that I was going to die.” 

Jaime’s brother Joshua Rieger recalls, “I was trying to get out by pushing onto the ice and pulling myself, except every time that I tried the ice kept breaking.” 

One of the boys, Joshua Sander, managed to pull himself out. By now, the manager of the adjacent housing complex had arrived and taken over the call.

911 Dispatch: “Two kids fell in the ice. Ok are you right there with them?”

Caller: “They’re out there a bit little farther. One’s having problems so tell them to hurry.”

911 Dispatch: “Ok they’re coming.”

Rescue personnel arrived and pulled Joshua Rieger to safety. But the third boy, John Smith, was still trapped.

Tommy Shine of the Wentzville Fire Protection Department went in after him. By then, John had been in the water for 15 minutes.

Tommy remembers, “When we pulled him out of the water we didn't think he was going to have a chance. He was completely lifeless, limp, and water was coming through his nose because he had taken so much water in at that point. He was starting to turn blue from being submerged for the length of time that he was.”

After several failed attempts to revive John, EMTs rushed him to nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital. Dr. Kent Sutterer, the emergency department physician, was the first to see John when he arrived.

“He had no spontaneous respirations, no heart tones, in essence he was cold and he was he was dead. He was gone.”

Dr. Sutterer and his team made every possible effort to save the 14-year-old boy, but could not get a pulse. After 45 minutes, Dr. Sutterer was ready to call time of death. By now, John’s mother Joyce arrived and was taken into the ER.

“I saw his feet and they were so gray and I reached over and touched them and when I touched them, they were so cold. I remember just saying, ‘Oh Holy Spirit, I need you now.  I need you now, Lord, please give me back my son.’ And all of a sudden I heard someone say, ‘We've got a pulse, we've got a pulse.’  To me at that point in time God had answered my prayer and as far as I was concerned, the work was done.” 

But based on experience and John’s condition, doctors had a more realistic view.  

“I was not optimistic because being without any respirations and any heartbeat for that length of time is certain to cause brain damage, and severe brain damage.  He could easily be in a vegetative state for weeks or months or years, or, it'll all catch up to him and he'll die a few days later,” says Dr. Sutterer.

John was stabilized and airlifted to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri to receive the next stage of care.

“It's just an unnatural situation to see your child laid out and, you know, basically unresponsive with tubes and test gear attached to them,” said Brian.

Joyce remembers, “His face was swollen, his chest was swollen and he was not responding and the breathing was very, very heavy and hard.”

At this time, John only had brain stem function and his blood oxygen levels were critical. By now, friends and family gathered to pray for a miracle. But they weren’t alone. John’s story went viral as prayer chains spread through Facebook.

“Facebook was just blowing up.  My phone was coming off the wall People sending me scriptures that they were praying for John,” says Joyce.

The next 72 hours were critical as doctors predicted brain swelling, seizures, and lung infections, but none of them materialized. In fact, John kept getting better and on the 10th day he was removed from the ventilator and started breathing on his own. Then the next day, John woke up.  Joyce remembers when her son opened his eyes.

“And I'm thinking to myself, ‘They're wrong!  They're wrong!  He has more than brain stem function because he is looking around the room and he knows who people are.’  You know, God is restoring everything back to this child.”

John recalls, “I couldn't say anything cause I had all the tubes and everything in my mouth, but I was thinking, ‘Where the heck am I?  What happened?  Why am I here?’”

On February 4th just 16 days after being pulled from the icy water, John walked out of the hospital with no residual effects from the accident.

“Jesus heals people not for what we can do for him, but as an example that he is all powerful,” says Dr. Sutterer.

A few months later, the family’s church threw a party to honor the first responders who helped save John’s life that day.

“It was an emotional moment because I saw my dad and mom crying and just kinda listening and just thinking, ‘How did I survive?’  And then kinda just praising Him for keeping me alive,” says John.

The Smith family is thankful for prayer and for the power of God that showed the world miracles still happen.

“He didn't heal him partly or do this part, but not another one. He's the same kid as he was going in,” shares Brian.

“God is there to show up for us at our time of need and do miraculous things for us,” says Joyce. 

John says, “The greatest lesson I've learned is to never lose faith. Jesus Christ is a miracle worker.”

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