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17-month-old child all smiles six days after nearly drowning in Fort Worth

Surveillance video captures infant's near drowning

A 17-month-old in an above ground pool for 5 minutes in near drowning
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A 17-month-old in an above ground pool for 5 minutes in near drowning

The smell of a summer backyard barbecue and the faint voices of kids playing on Father's Day could be heard outside the home of Tanna Zuniga and her husband, Jordo Zuniga, in west Fort Worth on Sunday afternoon.

Their son, 17-month-old Elijah Zuniga, was happily bouncing around and smiling in a gated trampoline with his cousins, just a few feet away from an above-ground pool. Given his bright smile and energetic nature it was hard to believe that just six days earlier he was on the brink of death inside that same pool.

He slipped right past Tanna, 29, and her sister in the kitchen and managed to go into the back yard and climb into the pool.

"We were standing right there. That's what makes us so mad," Tanna said. "We were right there. We should have seen it."

During their second week at their new home in the 3000 block of San Marcos Drive on Monday, June 11, a little after 2 p.m., Elijah and his 2-year-old cousin, Jalen, were upstairs playing in Elijah's bedroom with the door closed, Tanna said.

"His cousin is a little older than him and knew how to unlock doors and let them out. They walked right past us and we didn't see them," Tanna said.

Tanna and her sister were in the kitchen when Elijah and the 2-year-old managed to quietly go out the back door and into the back yard. Both children were able to climb the ladder connected to the pool and get in.

Surveillance video footage from a home camera shows Jalen help Elijah into the pool, seconds before Elijah falls in face first. Elijah's body doesn't move and Tanna said no screams were heard.

Although both of the children could not swim, after a little more than five minutes Jalen manages to get back to the ladder, climb out and run inside the home, Tanna said.

"He pointed at the back door and said, 'Elijah.' When he did that me and my sister took off running and I found him," said Tanna.

She grabbed Elijah from the pool and her sister immediately started CPR.

"My sister has CPR training and he was breathing before they (EMS) even got here," said Tanna.

Thankfully, they live less than two blocks from Fort Worth Fire Department station 23, according to her husband, Jordo.

"There's an ambulance that always sits at the QT (QuikTrip convenience store) over here so they pretty much got here right at the same time," Jordo said.

A fireman took Elijah from the arms of his aunt and took him to Cook Children's Hospital, Tanna said.

After nervously awaiting news from doctors in the waiting room at Cook's for a few hours, their fears were put to ease when they saw Elijah's smiling face about 3 a.m. Tuesday .

"He was normal, smiling, laughing and everything," Tanna said. "They monitored him for two days and we didn't leave the hospital until Wednesday. But every day they just told us, 'We're just looking and just watching.' But everything — X-rays, bloodwork, CAT scans — everything came back normal."

Laughter is all you could hear Sunday afternoon from the back yard of the Zuniga home. Elijah was holding hands with his older cousins, bouncing around on the trampoline in playful bliss.

But amid the playful cheers, signs of caution could be seen around the back yard and the pool.

There is a sign near the back door, where you would enter the kitchen, reminding the children to remove the ladder from the pool. They've added a big bar on the back door that makes it harder for the younger children to open it, and windows to the kitchen are crystal-clear since the blinds have been removed, according to Tanna.

"We've taken down all the blinds and curtains on the windows so we can see through now," Tanna said. "I told my husband, 'It's so crazy seeing that had that blind just been open we would've seen them walking (into the yard) and this all would've been stopped."

Friends and family hold a candlelight vigil for Chase Dennis, a football and track and field athlete from Keller Timber Creek High School drowned after graduating from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.

Prescotte Stokes III: 817-390-7028, @PrescotteStokes
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