JEMS.com Editor's Note: Click here to read Chris Suprun's article, "The Cold Truth on Spinal Injury," on induced hypothermia.
CHICAGO -- Despite all the medical odds, a boy who was submerged in Lake Michigan for 15 minutes was able to play Wednesday and meet with the team of rescuers who helped save his life in mid-April.
"If there is a such thing as miracles, this would be one," said Dr. Leon Epstein, a neurologist at Children's Memorial Hospital on Chicago's North Side.
Lazar Ognjenovic was in his stroller when a strong wind swept him into the lake at Belmont Harbor. His grandfather, Stanko Bojanovic, 65, jumped in to save him, though he barely could swim, witnesses said at the time. Bojanovic was rescued as well.
When he first examined Lazar, now 3, Epstein said there was no evidence of brain function and he believed Lazar's chances for survival were slim.
"The only small glimmer of hope was his brain was not swelling," Epstein said during a news conference at the hospital Wednesday afternoon to update Lazar's condition. Lazar and his family were not at the news conference but had met with rescuers and doctors earlier. The family wanted to protect Lazar's privacy, said Kathleen Keenan, spokeswoman for the hospital.
Keenan quoted Lazar's mother as saying: "We're so lucky to live in the city of Chicago. It was truly a team effort that would [never have] happened elsewhere."
Doctors believe the chilly temperature of Lake Michigan was critical to Lazar's survival, but they cannot be certain. But they were certain of the rescue efforts of the Chicago Fire Department and the care Lazar received at the hospital.
The Chicago Fire Department's Air and Sea Rescue team had been practicing earlier that day and still had most of their gear on, so they were able to respond quickly.
"Visibility was very, very poor that day," said Brian Otto, a member of the team that pulled Lazar to safety. He recalled jumping in and seeing Lazar's flowing hair. At first glance, he thought Lazar was on a bicycle.
It took Otto, who has a five 5-year-old child, about three minutes to find the boy and get him above water. Paramedics vigorously worked to keep the boy's blood circulating and gave him oxygen until they reached Children's Memorial.
Epstein said that some children who go into cold water have a chance of survival: "If it was a warm pool, his chances would have been less. The cold is protective of the brain. But it's not clear why."
Lazar is expected to continue to make a full recovery, and his cognitive skills are strong, doctors said. The boy, who only spoke Serbian when he entered the hospital, learned to speak English from spending time with his nurses, doctors and therapists.
Lazar starts preschool next month, Keenan said. "He laughs, pouts and has time-outs just like any other 3-year-old," she said.