Hero lifeguards save 7-year-old

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Hannah Chesser back at school

By Lisa King

“After we’d been working on her for a while, I don’t know how long, her eyelids fluttered, and she gasped a couple of times, and that was the most wonderful sight I’ve ever seen.”


Those are the words of Kirsten Nitz, one of two lifeguards who resuscitated Hannah Chesser of Shelbyville on Friday afternoon at the pool at Juniper Hills Park in Frankfort.

 “I was fine while it was happening, but after they took her away, then it hit me, and I started shaking,” said lifeguard Emily Dove Denigris, the one who spotted Chesser floating facedown in the pool.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent James Neihof said the girl was on a school field trip with a summer daycare program at the pool when the incident occurred. Hannah, 7, at student at Heritage Elementary, was taken to the Frankfort Regional Hospital, and then was sent to the University of Kentucky, where she was hospitalized for two days at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. She is now fully recovered, he said.

“The report says that at approximately 11:40 a.m., [Emily] Dove [Denigris] responded to a female victim in four feet of water floating face down,” Frankfort Parks and Recreation co-director Jim Parrish said said.

Nitz, 19, a Frankfort native who is a sophomore at Wheaton University in Chicago and who is home for the summer, said she was not on duty when the incident happened.

“Dove was the one who was in the chair,” she said. “I was sitting at the guard chair when Dove blew her whistle, and I walked down to see if she needed help, and I was expected to see someone who was just struggling, and then I saw her pulling someone out who didn’t look conscious.”

Denigris, 16, a junior at Western Hills High School in Frankfort, said that when she spotted Hannah floating in the pool, she blew her whistle and jumped in to retrieve her.

“I was very scared at first. Then my training kicked in,” she said.

Parrish said that Joy Royalty, a day care worker for Shelby County Schools, helped the two lifeguards lift the girl out of the pool.

“When we got her out of the pool, I checked to see if she was breathing or conscious – and she wasn’t – so I yelled to call 911 and then we started CPR,” Nitz said.

But CPR was not as easy as it should have been, because even though the girls were giving the child chest compressions, they could not breathe for her, Nitz said.

“She had so much vomit and stuff coming out of her nose and mouth, it was impossible,” Nitz said.

“We were doing everything we could, but we couldn’t give her oxygen. All we could do was just try to get the water out of her lungs. She was blue, and I was thinking – I was praying – that what we were doing was what she needed, because it was all we could do.”

Then when Hannah gasped and took a breath, Nitz said the relief that surged through her was so intense it almost brought her to tears.

“I was just so happy and relieved, I was overjoyed,” she said.

Hannah’s grandmother, Lynn Bingman of Shelbyville, said she is so glad the little girl is all right and will be able to start back to school today at Heritage Elementary School. She declined to identify Hannah’s parents except to say that her son’s name is Daniel [Chesser].

“It’s wonderful news; she’s doing great!” she said. “She’s ready to go back to school on Wednesday.”

The near tragedy was investigated by several agencies, including the Frankfort Police Department and Frankfort Parks and Recreation to be sure that no one was negligent in the incident.

Parrish said that was not the case – in fact, quite the opposite.

“This is a classic case where everybody did their job perfect, and there was a little luck on everybody’s side, and it all came out for the better,” he said. “The lifeguards and EMS were well-trained and did their jobs efficiently. It was a great outcome.”

Parrish also commended Frankfort Fire Chief Eddie Slone, who was the first responder, and lifeguard supervisor Kelley Caldwell, for their efforts in the rescue, but that most of the credit for saving Hannah’s life should go to Denigris and Nitz.

She said she is glad she and her friend are being recognized for the role they played in saving the little girl’s life.

“It’s been great to have people who know what happened tell us we did a good job; it’s been a big boost of confidence for me and Dove,” she said.

“I’m just so grateful the Lord helped us and gave us everything we needed, the presence of mind and the steadiness of hand, to give Hannah all the help she needed.”