At 21 months, little Waylon Saunders has not only survived a near-drowning, he’s beat all the odds by returning home this week with far fewer physical challenges than the doctors predicted.
“Waylon has been the miracle I always knew he was,” says his mom Gillian Burnett. “You always think it could never happen to you. And then it does.”
The toddler was at a daycare in Petrolia Jan. 24 and fell through the ice of an outdoor pool. Details are scarce while the police conduct an investigation but Burnett, who is a community health care worker, says her son had no heartbeat for two hours and doctors gave him a 10% chance of survival that day.
“We believe Waylon was under water for about five minutes before he was pulled out,” she said.
His body temperature had dipped dangerously low by the time he got to hospital in Petrolia where a medical team of 15 – 20 worked to regain a heartbeat.
“We were warned he likely wouldn’t make it to the hospital in London,” Burnett said. However, she’s been told that cold temperatures played in his favour.
“The brain likes it to be cold. They said that if it had been summer, they wouldn’t have worked so long on him.”
Waylon’s heartbeat returned and he stabilized surprisingly fast.
“I truly believe he’s here because of God,” said Burnett. “There’s no way a little boy can recover from all that in two weeks without God.
“The doctors and nurses are just blown away.”
Waylon lives with his mom, dad Garth Saunders and three-year-old sister Aberdeen in St. Clair Township.
When news of the accident reached the community, the outpouring of love and support kept the family going.
“It’s overwhelming how many people are in love with our little boy,” said Burnett. “He’s really become the community’s little boy.”
She said she receives at least 40 messages of encouragement every day and reads them when Waylon is sleeping.
“Those messages have kept me strong,” Burnett said. “In these situations, it’s very easy to feel alone but we don’t.
“We feel like our community has become our family.”
A GoFundMe campaign started by Waylon’s godmother, Chloe Ingles, has collected $20,600 for the family. Numerous other fundraisers have been held and Burnett’s mom, Linda LeBlond, is planning a concert event at the end of March with details still to be firmed up.
The money means the family doesn’t have to worry about the bills right now, said Burnett who has taken a leave from work to help her son recover.
“And it’s more than that,” she said. “I don’t know when I’ll be back to work. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust anyone to take care of my kids again.
“Waylon was only at that daycare for two weeks.”
Her husband has been off work since last fall, dealing with injuries from a car accident.
“The money is to help Waylon with therapy or equipment he may need,” Burnett said. “We don’t know if he’ll hit his developmental milestones or if his speech will be impacted.
“This money is going to let us focus on Waylon and that puts my mind at ease.
“We are very fortunate.”
On Monday, when he was discharged from Victoria Hospital, Waylon was all smiles. Before the accident, he was generally a “crazy, happy, super funny little person,” according to his mom. That has all returned.
Waylon has damage to the right side of his brain and requires therapy for his left leg, but he’s able to walk with assistance and has use of both his hands.
Life for Waylon’s three-year-old sister, Aberdeen, is also returning to normal.
She was at the daycare when the accident occurred.
“She saw it all,” said Burnett. “And she didn’t understand what happened to her brother.”
The two were always close but the ordeal seems to have brought them closer, she added.
“When it was time to wake Waylon up (from an induced coma) at the hospital, the doctors said it was possible he would be brain dead and there would be no purposeful movement.
“I said, ‘No, he’s strong.’ I played a recording of Aberdeen talking and when he heard his sister’s voice, he woke up.
“They have a bond like none other.”
When he plays with his sister now, Burnett says they hold each other closer.
“I think we’ve all learned that tomorrow is never promised,” she said. “So you need to appreciate the little things – a kiss, a game he wants you to play 1,000 times, whatever it is.
“You really need to realize how special those moments are.”