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Kansas father, son recognized after saving toddler from drowning

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Posted at 9:31 AM, Jun 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-01 17:28:53-04

LAWRENCE, Kan.  — A 4-year-old boy and his mother in Lawrence, Kansas, were reunited with his rescuers Thursday morning at a press conference held by the Lawrence Police Department and the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical.

Four-year-old Xzavier Rigney fell into a community pool at an apartment complex on May 18. He opened the door and left the house without his mother’s knowledge.

Officials say he was underwater for nearly three and a half minutes.

“We feel confident we would not be standing here today if it were not for the actions of Mr. Tom Westerhaus and his son Maddox,” Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Battalion Chief Rob Fleeup said.

Maddox Westerhaus, 12, was playing outside with his friends when he saw Xzavier’s head floating in the water. He quickly ran to get his dad, who was able to jump a six-foot fence to Xzavier’s rescue.

“I just feel good feelings when I think about how I helped,” Maddox said.

His dad, Tom Westerhaus, used hands-only CPR he learned over 15 years ago to resuscitate Xzavier.

“Honestly, everything was just kind of a blur jumping over the fence and everything,” Westerhaus said. “Definitely hits home a lot harder having a son myself and everything.”

According to Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death for children ages 1 to 4 years old.

The risk of drowning for autistic children like Xzavier is 10 times greater.

“I just never thought that he’d be able to get into the pool or anything like that,” Xzavier's mother, Alexis Rigney, said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if his son wouldn’t have been out there and, you know, seen him in the pool.”

Lt. Jeff Krall with the department says more the 5,000 people 14 and older visit the emergency room due to drowning every year. Fifteen percent do not survive, and 20% of those who do suffer permanent damage.

He encouraged people to take preventative measures like swimming lessons, learning CPR, wearing life vests, and installing fencing around pools.

On average, it just takes 60 seconds for adults and 20 seconds for children to start drowning. Alexis Rigney is forever grateful for her neighborhood heroes who saved her baby’s life.

“He’s my best friend, so I don’t know what I would do without him,” Rigney said.

JuYeon Kim at KSHB first reported this story.