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Petrolia woman charged after toddler nearly drowns in backyard pool at daycare

Left to right: Jessi Baer and Charity Lindsay of the Children’s Hospital Neonatal Paediatric Transport Team, Dr Janice Tijssen and mom Gillian Burnett with son Waylon Saunders in Feb. 2023. London Health Sciences Centre

One person in Petrolia has been charged after a child was seriously injured and almost died last month after falling into an ice-covered pool.

Ontario Provincial Police charged 50-year-old Paula Maness with criminal negligence causing bodily harm. The charge follows an investigation into how 20-month-old Waylon Saunders fell into the pool and nearly drowned while in daycare.

OPP say they received a report of Saunders falling into a backyard pool at a home on Juniper Crescent shortly before 3 p.m. on Jan. 24.

Following responses by firefighters, police and paramedics, Saunders was transported to the Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital in Petrolia, where he was first treated.

According to the London Health Sciences Centre, Saunders is estimated to have been underwater for approximately five minutes. Upon his arrival at the Petrolia hospital, Saunders was in cardiac arrest, and his body temperature was so low equipment was unable to read it.

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With upwards of 20 medical staff working on Saunders, it took nearly three hours of CPR for the child to sustain a pulse, according to the LHSC. Soon after regaining a stabilized pulse, Saunders was transported to the Children’s Hospital in London.

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Saunders’s mom, Gillian Burnett, told Global News earlier this month her son’s heartbeat was still very weak after getting to the Children’s Hospital; she was told he had only a 10 per cent chance of making it through the night. Still, Burnett said the doctors and medical teams in both Petrolia and London were incredible.

“I’ve never seen a team like that work together,” said Burnett. “If it wasn’t for them, Waylon wouldn’t be here right now.”

Once in London, members of the paediatric critical care unit (PCCU) continued to stabilize Saunders, continuing the rewarming and neuroprotection work that began in Petrolia. LHSC says Saunders was sedated so he could be comfortable.

Burnett says after the first couple of days, doctors told her there was a very high chance Saunders was “brain dead,” as he was not responding to tests. Burnett said her son finally opened his eyes after she played a video of Saunders sister talking to him.

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“Waylon woke up from that deep, deep sleep, wherever he was,” said Burnett. “We knew then and there Waylon wasn’t brain dead.”

Saunders was discharged from the hospital almost two weeks later on Feb. 6 to continue his recovery at home.

Dr. Janice Tijssen, the PCCU physician on-call the day Saunders fell in the pool, said it was a team effort throughout the entire process.

“He beat the odds. Everyone worked so well together and the transition was seamless between different stages of his care journey,” said Tijssen. “We couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.”

The accused has been released from custody and is scheduled to appear in court in Sarnia on March 22.

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