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It took only seconds for 6-year-old Cody Grundstrom to succumb to the roiling muddy current at the base of the Fremont River waterfall in Capitol Reef National Park.
No one saw the Wisconsin vacationer wade into the popular swimming hole late Monday afternoon or get sucked underneath, though bystanders recall someone telling him to steer clear until his parents arrived.
"I tried to hang onto rocks, but the waterfall took me toward it," recalls Cody, whose cries for help couldn't be heard over the thundering cascade. "All I could see was green. I closed my eyes, was just lying in the water and waiting. I knew my dad would come get me."
Circumstances favored Cody, who could have easily been Utah's seventh drowning victim in four weeks. Instead, he is expected to be discharged soon from Primary Children's Medical Center with a doozy of a story for friends at home.
"It's a God thing. I would never have said that four days ago," said Cody's father, Kevin Grundstrom, 40, on Wednesday. "But if you could have seen that water. ..."
In Cody's corner: the timely arrival of his parents, the alert sounded by his sister and the luck of having two trained emergency responders from Salt Lake City nearby. Talli Torgersen, an emergency-room nurse at Primary Children's, and her husband, Jay, a fire captain with Unified Fire Authority and expert in swift-water rescues, were at the falls with their own children.
"Those two people saved Cody's life," Kevin Grundstrom said.
A lesson • It's a cautionary tale, say child-safety advocates, who predict warming temperatures this week will worsen flood conditions in the state's already swift-flowing rivers.
Drowning is the nation's second-leading cause of death for children between the age of 1 and 4. And for every child who dies, another four receive emergency care, with some sustaining lifelong neurological injuries or brain damage, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Aside from avoiding water altogether, the first and best defense is vigilance, said Janet Brooks, an injury-prevention expert at Primary Children's. "Our slogan here is, 'Don't just be there, be aware.' "
But when one safeguard fails, it's important to have backups, such as pool fences and alarms and CPR-trained caregivers, Brooks said.
Kevin and Jenny Grundstrom left Wisconsin with Cody and his 10-year-old sister, Madison, on June 8 on a cross-country, recreational-vehicle trip. They visited Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and California's redwood forests before circling back through southern Utah to hook up with an old friend, Cody Clapp, their son's namesake and the owner of a backcountry outfitter in Torrey.
On Monday, the Grundstrom family had been horseback riding all morning, then sent the children ahead to swim with the Clapps, who were eager to get to the waterfall located just off the highway near the Capitol Reef visitor's center.
"We were about 15 to 20 minutes behind," said Jenney Grundstrom, who wonders what might have happened had they been delayed. "There are just so many what-ifs."
When the couple arrived at the top of the 10-foot waterfall, they were surprised by the water's force.
"We had been told it was safe, and our kids are strong swimmers. But we're all used to flat water," said Kevin Grundstrom, a financial adviser who owns Grand Pines, a lakeside resort in Hudson, Wis.
Grundstrom said he realized Cody was in danger as soon as he saw Madison's eyes. She had just retrieved Cody's flip-flop from the water.
"I knew he wouldn't have left them behind because he loves those flip-flops," Madison said.
The Grundstroms rushed down the hillside, yelling for Cody.
"There was a starburst of activity as everyone stopped what they were doing and fanned out to look for Cody," Jenney Grundstrom said.
Jay Torgersen told some teens to go to the visitor's center and alert a ranger.
Kevin Grundstrom and two friends dove into the water, kicking and flailing about for Cody.
"My buddy says he felt something," said Grundstrom, who moved to the water's edge, where the brown, muddy liquid spills out and continues its downriver descent.
"I saw something that looked strange. I don't know, it could have been water going over a rock. But I dove under and pulled out Cody," Grundstrom said.
Cody was limp, lifeless, wasn't breathing and had no pulse when the Torgersens started CPR.
"It looked like he wouldn't make it," Madison said. "My dad was yelling, 'Please, please, let my son live!' and I was crying because he's the only brother I have."
Talli Torgersen said it took 30 seconds of chest compressions before Cody vomited and two to three minutes more until he could breathe on his own.
He was still unconscious when they strapped him to a lawn chair and carried him to the Torgersens' vehicle, in which they had an IV kit. Ten to 15 minutes later, a ranger arrived with oxygen.
With Cody so well-cared for, "By the time the ambulance arrived, there was almost nothing more they could do," said Jenney Grundstrom, who flew with Cody to Primary Children's in a helicopter.
Expected to be OK • Doctors are still monitoring Cody and treating him for pneumonia, the by-product of fluid still trapped in his inflamed lungs. But the Grundstroms say he's expected to make a full recovery.
They figure he was under water for at least three minutes.
The family is headed home, sooner than planned, but wants to wait for the Torgersens to return to Salt Lake City.
"I want to give those two a hug," Kevin Grundstrom said.
Talli Torgersen credits the rescue to "everyone involved" the family's orderly response and their daughter's presence of mind.
"We were all there, just standing there saying this will never happen this way again," said Torgersen, whose own young children were playing in the water that day. "It was such a reminder to all of us that this is really dangerous, this is real. I just held my children all night long."
Deaths in Utah waters this spring
Uri Grois • The 15-year-old lost his life June 11 after he and friend fell over a waterfall that spills into the Virgin River in St. George.
Jayson Robert Corporon • The 8-year-old drowned June 8 in the American Fork River.
Donaven Albert Lopez • The family of the 2-year-old removed him from life support on June 8, a day after he passed through a hole in a park fence and into a canal in Riverton.
Danny Ellison • The 13-year-old died after being pulled from the Provo River on June 5.
Shirley Palmer • On May 31, the 73-year-old drowned when her inflatable kayak flipped on the Green River.
Vincent Larsen • The 2-year-old died May 29 after he fell into Starvation Creek.