This is an interesting story of a person who made a full recovery after being submerged for 10 minutes. Even though divers were not available in this community 20 years ago, it shows why they are needed now.

A special thank you

MIDDLEBURY CENTER — The fire department here got a surprise visit at its 50th anniversary banquet when a young woman members rescued from an ice-covered pond 20 years ago attended.

The Revs. J. Robert and Ruth Vaughan and their now 25-year-old daughter, Debbie, were among the attendees at the banquet, held last weekend.

The Vaughans had just moved to the area from upstate New York to start the Living Word Fellowship Church in Charleston Township when tragedy struck. On March 21, 1987, their then 5-year-old daughter fell through an ice-covered pond on their property off Catlin Hollow Road.

She was underwater for at least 10 minutes before her father could pull her out and begin administering emergency CPR. When emergency personnel arrived, she was dead, Vaughan recalled Sunday.

“They continued in their efforts to revive her even though she was dead in every sense of the word,” Vaughan said.

A prayer chain was activated, and people from all over the area started praying.

Miraculously, emergency personnel in the ambulance detected a faint pulse just as the vehicle approached the emergency room entrance of Soldiers and Sailors Hospital, Wellsboro.

Debbie came out of a coma at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, on Easter Sunday, exactly 39 days after she “drowned.” She has progressed to the point of regaining all of her brain and body functions, graduated from high school in 2000 and now volunteers at the church school her parents opened to meet her needs.

Twenty years later, her parents stood and thanked the more than 200 firefighters, emergency personnel and their guests, and the room dissolved in tears, Vaughan said.

“You could just feel the emotion in the room as we expressed our appreciation for saving our daughter’s life,” he said.

Fire chief Gary Cooper remembered the day he got the call to rescue the little girl.

“At the time, I was at a friend’s place on the Middlebury end of Catlin Hollow Road, about five miles or so away,” he said.

Cooper had been a member of the department for about a year at the time, he said.

“When I got there, a member of Wellsboro Ambulance, Roy Hemenway, was there performing CPR,” he said.

Shortly afterward, the rescue truck arrived with several people aboard. One was Randy Starkweather, who was an active member of fire department at the time.

“When the Soldiers and Sailors paramedics and Wellsboro ambulance arrived, we got her into the ambulance and performed CPR all the way to the hospital,” Starkweather said.

At least seven people in the ambulance were working on the child, he said, and when her pulse was detected, it was the first sign of hope that she might still be alive.

“We were hopeful but had no way of knowing if she would survive,” Starkweather said.

Seeing her alive and well and grown-up at the fire department’s banquet was “quite overwhelming,” Cooper said.

“Sometime after she had recovered somewhat, she came with her family to see us on a Monday night, and I wasn’t there that night for some reason,” he said. “I had always regretted not being there.”

Cooper’s wife knew he wished he had been there that night, so she contacted the Vaughans several weeks before the banquet to invite them as a surprise for Cooper, he said.

Working on Debbie Vaughan was the first time Cooper had ever performed CPR, he said, and she lived.

“I have probably performed it 40-plus times since then, but they haven’t lived for any length of time,” he said.

He believes her miraculous recovery was due partly to the prayers of believers and he still “thinks of it often.”

Christie Webster, the minister of Niles Valley UMC, who was there to give the benediction and invocation, introduced the Vaughans at the end of the banquet.

“He (J. Robert Vaughan) began to talk about that day and presented me and the fire department with a photo album, which had pictures of Debbie before the accident, after and since, up to today and then he gave the benediction,” Cooper said.

The banquet ended on a doubly emotional note following the Vaughans’ presentation.

“I presented a Chief’s Award to an EMT who lost her son in a motorcycle accident last July,” Cooper said.

Rebecca Raymond’s son, Jeremy, 26, died in the crash. Despite her loss, Raymond “continued on with her duties,” Cooper said.