OAK GROVE, Mo. - Thanks to the quick actions of two kids, a Merriam, Kan. man is walking proof of an amazing recovery from a neck injury suffered while jumping into a pool.
Make no mistake. Tyler Birdsong, 22, is convinced a higher power also played a major role in his underwater rescue and speedy triumph over a potential lifetime of paralysis.
“Prayers must have reached somewhere because God was watching out for me,” said Birdsong.
On July 21, Birdsong was at a pool in an Oak Grove subdivision with his cousin, 9-year-old Steven Romines and his friend, 11-year-old Crichton Hill.
They were playing a made-up game they call “amazing catches,” where someone throws the ball from the poolside and another person jumps in the water trying to catch it. There are no lifeguards on duty at the neighborhood pool, a warning posted on several signs.
When it was Birdsong’s turn, the former football player stretched out his body while attempting to make a catch. He hit the water at an awkward angle, but it was nothing that would normally be any cause for concern.
“I went in shoulder first and kind of nicked the top of my head on the bottom of the pool,” said Birdsong. “I tried to swim back up and I couldn’t move my arms or my legs.”
Click on the video to watch Birdsong talk about his pool rescue and recovery from the neck injury
Submerged under five feet of water, Birdsong lay motionless, quickly coming to the realization he was paralyzed. As seconds ticked by, precious air slipped out of his lungs. Eventually, he used his final gasp to scream in hopes that someone would notice.
“After a little while, I made peace with it and said, ‘This is really how I’m going to die’” said Birdsong.
Outside of the pool, Romines and Hill could have easily thought it was all a joke, but they somehow realized something had gone horribly wrong.
Hill jumped into the water and tried to lift Birdsong off the pool’s bottom. He reappeared above the water, screaming at Romines that he needed help.
Together, the boys struggled to lift 230 pounds of dead weight, more than the two of them weigh combined.
They eventually succeeded in getting Birdsong’s head above the water, but his chances didn’t look good. His face and lips were purple. He began vomiting up water that he’d swallowed as he waited for help.
“I was thinking he wasn’t going to live,” said Romines.
In another moment of serendipity, a nurse who happened to be at the pool realized what was taking place from her folding chair. She yelled at the boys to leave him in the water, knowing that if they tried to drag him onto the pavement, it could permanently damage his spinal cord.
The nurse jumped into the water to help Romines support Birdsong’s neck as Hill ran for his phone and called 911.
“It was kind of awesome that she was there,” said Hill. “We wouldn’t have known what to do.”
Emergency workers rushed Birdsong to Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, where doctors tried to keep him stable.
His mother, Dawn Mantooth, recalled a very uncertain 48 hours after the accident. Doctors pumped water and blood from Birdsong’s damaged lungs and stomach. The 22-year-old learned he had broken a vertebra and fractured two vertebrae.
As Birdsong sat in a hospital bed, the pain medication played with his emotions. He contemplated a life of paralysis. But most of all, his mind kept racing back to the pool and the scene several young kids had witnessed.
“I remember hearing the kids crying and I felt terrible. I thought it was my fault they had to see something so traumatic,” said Birdsong.
Three days after the accident, something amazing happened: Birdsong awoke and started moving his feet. As a nurse helped him to the side of the bed, he said he could feel the cold tile floor and asked for socks. Then, with some assistance, he stood up.
“Nurses were coming from all over the hospital and saying, ‘I heard about your story.’” said Birdsong.
Before long, the feeling started returning to his arms and hands. After a week at Centerpoint, he transferred to MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital in Overland Park. He continued conquering physical hurdles like playing cards or bouncing a ball.
"He was the perfect candidate for this kind of recovery," said Kristin DeHart CEO at MidAmerica. "He stayed highly motivated through some very intense therapy sessions. He also had a great support system from his family."
Less than a month after lying paralyzed at the bottom of the Oak Grove pool, Birdsong checked out of the rehab facility on August 14 with his parents at his side.
“I can’t even describe it to you. I’m taking my baby home,” said an emotional Mantooth. “It was a chain of events that saved my son’s life and I could never say ‘thank you’ enough to those people. God was with us that day.”
Hill and Romines believe a higher power must have