SALEM, Utah – An Orem man is being hailed a hero after he rescued a little girl who was drowning at Salem Pond. Now, he hopes others will consider CPR training as the girl continues to fight for her life.
“It was right here,” Rhett Wilson said as he limped down a small hillside toward the water at Salem Pond.
For Wilson, the ever-popular community fishery has always been associated with happy family memories — but coming back Monday afternoon, he could only think of one.
“I’ll never forget this… This will be a life changing experience for the rest of my life,” he said as he stared at the water. “I’ve been replaying it all day and all night, just seeing everything over and over again.”
Wilson was standing where it happened.
“[The ground] drops a little bit quicker some places than others, it gets a little deeper, you just don’t realize that until it is too late,” he said.
Wilson was spending Father’s Day with his wife, 8-year-old daughter, mother, brother, nieces and nephews. He brought a grill and was barbecuing when he saw something floating in the water.
“I asked my family, ‘What is that out there?’” he said.
At first it looked like a t-shirt. After further inspection, they realized it was a little girl, submerged in the water about seven feet from the shore.
“Once I found out it was a little girl, I didn’t think, I just ran and jumped in,” Wilson said.
“When I grabbed her, she was lifeless and her head flopped back,” he said. “Everyone thought we lost her, but I still had hope.”
As soon as Wilson and his brother got the girl out of the water, he started CPR while the others called for help.
“Right away, when we said call 911, the mom was looking around and stuff like, ‘Where is my little girl?’” said Wilson. “It just happens with the blink of an eye.”
Wilson said he continued doing compressions on the girl for a few minutes before a woman who was an EMT came over to trade off with him. A short while later, an officer arrived to lend a hand.
Wilson estimated it had been more than 10 minutes before the ambulance arrived.
“I couldn’t find a pulse on her,” Wilson said. “When I wasn’t doing the CPR, I was feeling for a pulse and her face, it turned purple.”
The girl was taken by ambulance to Payson Hospital where they were able to secure a pulse before she was flown by helicopter to Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem.
Wilson had hurt his foot during the incident and also found himself at Payson Hospital, where he saw the girl’s mom.
“She told me they just got a heartbeat,” he said. “She gave me a big hug.”
The woman told Wilson he was a hero to her, but he said he is just thankful for years of CPR training and certification and hopes this is the first and only time he will have to use it.
“She said I’m a hero to her,” Wilson continued. “I wouldn’t say I was a hero, but just a citizen at the right spot at the right time.”
The last time someone drowned at Salem Pond was in 2018. However, Salem Police Chief Brad James told FOX 13 drownings are not common. SPD said parents should always make sure their children are wearing life jackets if they are near a waterway.
The 5-year-old is currently at the hospital on life support. A fundraising page has been set up to help the family cover medical expenses and can be found HERE.