Eight years ago I nearly lost a son.

I was finishing up errands when my cell phone rang  My home number, but a voice I didn’t know – calm, insistent, pressing the words into focus. My 5-year-old son Jesse in trouble. A near-drowning. Helicopter on its way. No time for me to get there. Call back in five minutes to find out which hospital.

I hung up, not quite breathing, and dialed my husband’s cell phone.

“Barbara, what’s happening? There’s a helicopter over our house!” Tripp was pulling into our driveway. Thank God one of us was there!

“It’s Jesse!  Hurry – and call me back!”

Then I was alone with all the questions:  How had this happened?  Had someone forgotten to lock the gate to the pool? Would he live? 

Jesse’s sweet smile, almond eyes and silky brown skin seemed suddenly more real, more necessary than the sidewalk under my feet. The EMT had said something about brain damage. Oh, woe if Jesse – already challenged with Down syndrome – should have to work harder than he already did!

Tripp had a better perspective: “Thank God He’s alive,” he said when he called back. Thank God for close calls, moments of reprieve, and maybe a miracle.

Jesse was already whirring above the San Francisco Bay to Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Thank God he’d be there before I could even get on the freeway.

With no traffic, it would take me an hour. Time to reassure my kids via cell phone and to hear the whole story.

Jesse hadn’t been alone. Everyone was swimming, but no one heard when he’d somehow slipped off the seat in the hot tub where little kids like to hang out.  He went under without a sound. 

My oldest son Josh spotted him and pulled him out like a soggy rag doll.  Jesse’s skin was blue, his eyes rolled back, his chest still.

“We need to do CPR!” Matt said.

And the two oldest brothers went to work – opening the airway, giving two quick breaths, checking for the pulse. Then, because there was no pulse, chest compressions. Ben called 911. Thank God he called them first!  Thank God my children showed common sense.  Thank God Josh and Matt knew CPR!

And here’s why those inclined to believe in Providence see life filled with more intentional meaning than those who think in terms of simple twists of fate:

In 1995 Tripp and I were required to pass a CPR course in order to adopt Jesse. For some strange reason we decided to have our whole family trained.  I say strange because at the time Josh and Matt were only 12 and 11, we had no pool, and recreational water play consisted of blowing up an inflatable circle, filling it with a few inches of water, then spending hours looking for leaks. Not much chance of drowning there.

Now, five years later, Josh and Matt saved Jesse’s life – this according to the EMTs who converged on our house, rounded up the kids, secured the dogs, called me, and arranged for Jesse’s transport. 

Still I think there’s a little something else involved.

Anne Lamott once said of miracles, “It’s not just that I believe in them; I rely on them.” I can relate – just as I relate to the words of Job in the Bible: “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.”

In Jesse’s story I see a few myself.  Jesse regained consciousness after 27 hours, then developed a virulent pneumonia. The going was slow until his fourth day, Sunday, when after a particularly cranky, distressing morning, Jesse suddenly sat up, smiled and wanted to play. A week later he was completely healed.

When we called our CPR instructor to let him know our training had already saved a life, he was amazed.  Though he’d been training people for 15 years, this was a first for him. What’s more, even in his primary job as a firefighter he’d arrived on thousands of accident scenes and never seen someone already doing CPR. 

And though he himself initiated CPR on 26 of those scenes, none of the victims survived. 

That’s because it was too late.  The first five minutes after someone stops breathing are critical – too short a time to wait for the professionals. Since 75 percent of the time the person who needs CPR will be someone you know, knowing how to help means more safety for your family. 

It did for ours.

Jesse – whose name means “God exists” – almost died, and didn’t. But sometimes miracles aren’t as simple as they look. Sometimes they depend on decisions we’ve made before, and whether we listened to the still, small voice.

Thank God we decided to have our family trained in CPR!

Keep your family safe this summer!  Sites to get you started:

Information on Children and Water Safety 

Free online CPR classes  


Barbara Curtis is author of 9 books, including Mommy, Teach Me! and Mommy, Teach Me to Read!  She is also mother of 12, including several pursuing careers in music and theater.