Brighley Watson acted like a normal, precocious 2-year-old child Wednesday morning, giving no indication that three-and-a-half weeks before, she had nearly drowned in the swimming pool in the backyard of her family’s Bel Air residence.
Brighley, her parents, Erin and Jason Watson, her 10-month-old sister, Burke, and her grandparents, Andrea and Charlie Barr, met in the Harford County 911 center with county government leaders, emergency services officials, Brian Reid, the dispatcher who took the call, representatives of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company and county information technology employee Paul DiGiacinto.
DiGiacinto, a neighbor of the Watson family, was home when Brighley fell in the pool on the evening of May 27. He helped her grandfather, Charlie Barr, perform CPR and revive her just before EMS and fire crews from the Bel Air fire company arrived at the Redfield Road residence.
“I have to thank God, especially, because he gave me that power, as well as Brian, as well as Charlie, to save this girl’s life,” DiGiacinto said.
He recalled sitting in his family room when he heard Jason Watson banging on his door and ringing the doorbell.
The girl’s father told him: “Brighley drowned, Brighley drowned.”
Watson had already entered the water to get his daughter out, and his father-in-law, Barr, called 911. DiGiacinto and Watson rushed back, and the former helped Barr perform CPR — DiGiacinto administered rescue breaths after Barr conducted chest compressions.
The girl was “unresponsive” and “very pale” when DiGiacinto arrived, and he could see she had a distended stomach from the water in her system.
The pair continued CPR, with instructions from Reid, for six minutes until Brighley started crying.
“By that sixth minute she started to cry; her pulse was nice and strong,” DiGiacinto said.
Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company EMS and fire crews then arrived. Medics evaluated Brighley, put her in an ambulance and took her to the pediatric care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The child spent two days in the intensive care unit, according to a Harford County news release.
Barr, who held Brighley Wednesday while she flashed a bright smile and played with a pair of sunglasses, later said he learned CPR while in the Boy Scouts. His last recertification happened about eight years ago.
“It’s just something that came back instantly,” Barr said. “I guess it’s like riding a bike.”
He spotted Brighley in the pool from an upstairs window as the family conducted a frantic search for her. They had gathered for steaks and crabs to celebrate Memorial Day weekend and were relaxing and tending to Brighley’s sister when they realized they had not heard from Brighley.
“There was just silence, and I just felt something and called her [name], and when she didn’t respond we just went into panic mode,” Erin Watson, Brighley’s mother, recalled.
Jason Watson, her father, suspects she unlocked the rear door and let herself out to get to the backyard pool. Erin said the in-ground pool was there when the family moved in about a year ago, and a fence is now scheduled to be installed.
The quick response, plus having two people present who know CPR, were critical when every second counted, according to multiple people at the celebration Wednesday.
“Those seconds mattered to get her back to where she is,” Jason Watson, 38, said. “[She is] pretty much her normal self.”
Erin Watson, 33, called the outcome “a miracle,” and she stressed the importance of people getting trained in CPR.
“It saved her life and how fortunate we were to have my dad and my neighbor that were certified,” she said.
“We probably would not have had the same outcome” if they were not able to perform CPR, she said.
Erin Watson said it was “very emotional” to meet Reid, who guided Barr and DiGiacinto.
“It felt really nice to give him a hug and meet him in person,” she said.
Reid said the 911 center had been busy with weather-related calls on May 27, as torrential rains hit Central Maryland and caused devastating floods in Ellicott City.
He said Barr “was really shaken up” when he called to report the drowning of his granddaughter. Reid asked him questions, such as their location, whether Brighley was out of the water and her condition.
He determined she had shallow breathing, but “she still had lungs full of water, so she was not breathing nearly as much as she should be.”
Reid heard Brighley crying over the phone just before EMS arrived. He said “it’s amazing” to meet Brighley and her family, as 911 dispatchers do not normally know the outcome of a call for service.
“[I’m] really really happy, very proud, to be a part of that team that helped,” he said.
Erin Watson said she did not truly think her daughter would be OK until after the first 24 hours at the hospital.
“I still had a million thoughts running through my head as far as the long-term potential effects,” she said.
Her daughter does not appear to have any physical or cognitive issues from the incident. Brighley recently talked about what happened, saying she “went boom-boom” in the water, which is the same term the family uses to describe a fall, Watson said.
Brighley is enrolled in swimming lessons this summer at The Arena Club in Bel Air, Watson said.
DiGiacinto said he had not performed CPR outside of a class until the day he helped save Brighley. He has known the Watsons since they moved in, and he said the girl is now “extremely special” to him.
“I’d give up anything for her, especially that day,” he said. “Nothing else really mattered after I heard her cries.”
County Executive Barry Glassman and Rich Gardiner, of the Bel Air fire company, emphasized the importance of citizens learning CPR.
Local fire companies offer classes, which people can take as a family, for a “nominal” cost, Gardiner said.
“The time spent, it’s priceless,” he said.