It is a remarkable story of immense bad luck paired with immense strength under pressure, and perhaps the luck of a draw: when Alicia Fennell called 911 in a panic Saturday afternoon, she heard the calm and self-assured voice of Genice Caccavale, an 11-year veteran with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office who’s fielded calls from shooters, drug addicts, accident victims and all sorts of panicked people.
Saturday afternoon (July 13), Fennell was calling 911 to say that her 2-year-old granddaughter Kelisa was pulled out of the pool, dead: she was not breathing. “Her tongue was hanging out, her eyes were closed, she was swollen up like a beach ball,” Fennell recalled.
And over the next seven minutes, with detailed, simple and calming CPR instructions over the phone, Caccavale helped Fennell bring Kelisa back to a resurrected “mmmmmmm,” and then a cough, and life.
“She was able to keep me calm, and she spoke very clearly and professionally to me,” Fennell said of those minutes with Caccavale. If she was able to meet the 911 operator, as she surely will be soon, “I would tell her God bless her. I would tell her I just love her so much. I would like for me and my grandbaby, Kelisa and my grandbaby that dived in the pool, to meet her.”
Fennell doesn’t get to see Kelisa too often: Kelisa lives with her family in Port Orange. But Saturday the family was celebrating Kelisa’s mother’s birthday—at Fennell’s house on Zollinger place, off Belle Terre Boulevard in Palm Coast, a house that’s seen Fennell raise seven children and at least in part raise 14 grandchildren. Her daughter lives next door, with two young children, an 8-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, who were also at the house Saturday.
Kelisa had just been dropped off Saturday afternoon. Fennell was about to take the young children to get ice cream and rent a movie. It was just past 6 p.m.
Fennell’s 8-year-old granddaughter went home next door to get diapers so Fennell could change her little brother. Fennell was sitting on the porch with Kelisa and her grandson. The two younger children were going back and forth off the patio through the screen door, to the next house, as they often do.
The phone rang. The children hadn’t come back from the other house. Fennell went inside to pick up the phone. It was her daughter from next door who was at work, but who said she’d left a back door open, so if they needed extra clothes they could go in easily.
“When I ran in to answer the telephone off the sofa, Kelisa and the little baby must have come back through the screen door,” Fennell said.
Just as she was hanging up the phone, the 2-year-old boy told Fennell that Kelisa was in the pool.
“So when I ran out there to the pool. There she was, face up in the pool,” Fennell said in an interview Monday afternoon. “My granddaughter was coming through the door and she was able to dive in to give her to me and I took off running. That’s when I dialed 911.”
The call (in its entirety below) is a dramatic seven minutes of gritty courage as Fennell, out of breath and in and out of panic, describes what she sees—Kelisa at first appeared to be throwing up, suggesting that she may have been breathing, but Fennell would tell Caccavale repeatedly that there was no breathing—and Caccavale guided her to roll her to her side and clean out the water from her mouth. “She needs to be on a hard surface like a floor,” Caccavale says. She asks Fenell again to check her breathing. No sign of it.
“Listen to me, I’m going to tell you what to do, OK?” Caccavale then says. “You pinch her nose, and eith the other hand you’re going to lift her chin and gently take her head back.”
“OK? And then you want to cover her mouth with yours and get two deep breaths.”
Fennell panics again: no sign of life. Caccavale reassures her, beginning to explain how to do chest compressions. Fennell panics again, and Caccavale again reassures her, telling her how to proceed with chest compressions, which Fennell said she didn’t know how to do. But she did them, counting as she performed the compression, hearing Caccavale tell her that paramedics would soon be there. At the end of the compressions, Caccavale again tell her to provide two more breaths, then 30 more compressions.
And then it happened: four minutes into the call, Fennell says: “She tried to cough, ma’am.”
Kelisa was back.
“She’s breathing, but she’s congested like,” Fennell said. But she was responding, as Fennell sounded as if she’d ran a marathon. It was then that paramedics arrived.
There was a bit more panic, perhaps Fennell not realizing that the critical part was done, that she’d managed it. She implores the paramedics to take care of Kelisa. Later, as she was talking to a sheriff’s deputy, she said, “the paramedic came over and hugged me and told me I did a wonderful job, she said it’s OK grandma, she’s crying, that’s a good sign, we’ve got her crying, can you hear? She’s crying.”
Monday afternoon, Fennell, collected and grateful, recalled almost every moment, breaking down on a couple of occasions as she relived the emotions of those minutes—the dread of loss, the gratefulness of the rescue being performed through her own hands.
“She was dead, sir,” Fennell said. “Doing what the operator was telling me to do, I got her to first she said mmmmmm, you know what I’m saying? Is she breathing? I said no, she’s not breathing, but almost, and after listening to what she was telling me to do I was able to hear her cough. I said she’s coughing, and by this time, the ambulance, I can hear the ambulance coming. I think you can hear that on the 911 call too. She said they’re on their way honey, they’re on the way, just calm down, just calm down, they’re on the way. Oh, Jesus, that’s the worst fear that you can have. But if it wasn’t for that operator walking me through that—first I want to give God the glory, and after I give God the glory, I want to give her the glory, because had it not been for her, I don’t know what would have been.”
Fennell breaks down, thinking about Caccavale’s words.
“I want to meet her, I just want to give her the biggest hug, because, I don’t know what I would have done,” Fennell said. “And the saddest part about it, it was my daughter’s birthday, her mom’s birthday, it was July 13, Saturday. I don’t know how I could have told my daughter that I lost her baby. I just don’t know. Oh, Jesus. That’s the worst thing anybody could face. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. I wouldn’t want anybody to go through anything like that.”
Kelisa Bailey was first taken to Florida Hospital Flagler by Flagler County Fire Rescue, then to a hospital’s pediatric unit in Jacksonville, where she was kept overnight for observation.
“Kelisa comes from a praying family. Her mother is a prayer warrior,” Fennell said, describing her granddaughter, who goes to Warner Academy Christian school in South Daytona. “Kelisa is a very sweet, caring, caring kid.”
Fennell went to the hospital with her grandchild before she was sent home to rest. “My daughter called me first thing Sunday morning,” Fennell said. “She said Ma, she said Kelisa woke up this morning—now mind you, she hadn’t woken up, she hadn’t opened her eyes because they had her on IV and had her with antibiotics to rest and sleep, so I hadn’t seen her open her eyes and look at you or reach and stuff when I was at the hospital. She said Mom, she said Kelisa woke up this morning, and she stood up in this bed that they have in the hospital up there,” surrounded with rails, “ and the first thing she said, Momma, was ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.’ I just thank God, I just give God all the glory.”
Sunday evening, Fennell went to Port Orange where the family held the birthday dinner for her daughter. Kalisa herself was “up running around and she was playing and she was just kicking and laughing. You could just see angels all over.”
Kelisa’s 911 Rescue [media id=332 width=500 height=400]