By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Five-year-old Helena White is back home after a remarkable rescue and recovery thanks to the work of strangers who stopped to rescue the girl from her car, which had flipped into a creek near Camden Dec. 28. One of those rescuers, William Banks, a youth minister at Camden Sacred Heart Parish, said he believes he was part of a miracle and that everything about that day was directed by God to put him in the right place at the right time.
The child’s mother, Chasity White, told a reporter for the Jackson Clarion Ledger she turned her head to look at a picture little Helena has drawn and missed a turn on the road. Their car flipped and landed in a creek. When White could not get her child out, she ran up to the road and started flagging down passers-by.
Banks and his girlfriend Jessica Burch were driving back from the Gulf Coast when they came across the scene. “When you looked down the bank you could see the mama, she was screaming that her baby was in the car,” he said. One of the rescuers told Banks they needed a knife to cut the seatbelt. “I had just gotten a knife, two days before, she (Burch) gave it to me.”
Banks went into the water. “I can’t even swim. I was so scared, but the Lord was there with me. I could not see. Someone took my hands and guided them to the seatbelt,” said Banks. He cut his own hand while cutting the seatbelt to make sure he did not cut the child. When he got the belt off he discovered little Helena’s body was wedged between the seats.
“I said, we can’t get her out this way, we have to try something else. We have to lift up the car,” said Banks. How did he and a handful of others lift a submerged car? “The grace of God,” he said. Once they pulled the girl from the car she had been under water for a long time, perhaps as long as 10 minutes.
“She was blue and her mama was holding her in the water. You could tell she was just getting weak,” said Burch, who was a lifeguard and knew CPR. She and the others on the bank helped Chasity White out of the water and one person started CPR. “About four minutes in, she gave a little burp so they rolled her over and water came out,” explained Banks. “Then she started crying. That was the most beautiful sound, the crying baby,” said Banks.
“Yes, that was the miracle, the sound of that baby crying,” added Burch. Banks said he had no way of knowing what happened after the ambulance left. He did not know the child’s name or where she went. “I did not sleep for days. I would cry—I just didn’t know what happened,” he said. Burch saw a story on the television, including video of the rescue. Banks contacted the sheriff’s department to see if he could speak to the family. Seeing Helena and hearing that she will recover fully eased his anxiety.
Doctor Mary Taylor, chief of pediatric critical care at Batson’s Children’s hospital called Helena’s recovery remarkable. At a press conference about the case held Friday, Jan. 9, the doctor said fact that Helena was in an age-appropriate 5-point restraint car seat and that rescuers started CPR immediately are the two factors that contributed most to the child’s survival.
The car seat prevented more serious injuries to her body. “While it may seem funny because she was trapped in the car that probably saved her from significant injury from the rollover car accident she had,” explained Taylor. Then, starting CPR restored circulation and got oxygen to her brain, preventing permanent damage. Even the fact that the water was cold may have helped. Taylor said a person is more likely to survive a cold-water near-drowning. She added that some children spend weeks on a ventilator after a near-drowning. Helena spent only days and had to be sedated because she was so active in the days after the accident, an early good sign of her spirit. She went home Sunday, Jan. 11.
“She is the same happy little girl that wants to make everyone happy,” said her mother. “We’re very thankful for all the prayers and all the support because it has definitely helped,” she said.
White said Helena remembers the accident. She said she wants her daughter to know the rest of the story— and the people who saved her life. “I was so surprised to see how many people stopped. We are so thankful for everyone that helped. Now we keep in pretty close contact. She said ‘I want to meet everyone that helped’ and I’m like, ‘you will,’” said White.
Banks and Burch offered to host a real birthday party for the girl, since she spent her 5th birthday in the intensive care unit. “It has changed my perspective on life. I just pray every day. I take a little time every day. You know, you never know what God is going to put there for you,” said Banks. Although he still has the knife he used in the rescue, he said he will not use it again. He still gets emotional when talking about the accident. He said he plans to talk to his youth group about the rescue to tell them to be ready for when God might call them to step up.