Fast-Thinking Kansas Dad Hops Fence to Save 4-Year-Old Boy with Autism from Drowning in Apartment Pool

Tom Westerhaus raced over to the pool and grabbed Xavier Rigney from the deep end before performing life-saving CPR

A heroic Kansas dad hopped a fence to save a 4-year-old boy with autism who nearly drowned after jumping in a pool at his apartment complex.

On May 18, little Xavier Rigney bolted out of the apartment where he lives with his mother, Alexis Rigney, and his 4-month-old sister, made his way into the fenced-in pool at the complex and jumped into the deep end, shocking surveillance video shows, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

As the terrified boy flailed helplessly underwater, 12-year-old Maddox Westerhaus ran to get his dad.

"My friends were yelling at me to go get help and I just went like, 'Oh no,' and ran," Maddox said, ABC News reported.

His dad, Tom Westerhaus, a former lifeguard, rushed over, jumped the locked pool area and plucked the then-unresponsive boy out of the water as fast as he could, The Topeka Capital Journal reported.

Using the training he'd received 15 years ago as a lifeguard, Tom began performing chest compressions on the boy, who had turned blue because he had been underwater for more than 3 minutes, the outlet reported.


"When he started to cough up water and everything I knew that was a good sign, and I just didn't realize I had to keep going for so long," Tom said, per ABC station KMBC.

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Minutes later, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Battalion Chief Rob Fleeup responded to the scene, where he found the boy awake — and breathing, The Topeka Capital Journal reported.

Mom Alexis broke down in tears when she learned that her son had nearly drowned.

"I never thought he'd be able to get into the pool," she said, ABC News reported.

She had been checking on Xavier's baby sister when he took off toward the pool, Alexis added.

"Xavier is my best friend, and I don't know what I would do without him," she tearfully told reporters at a Lawrence-Douglas County ceremony honoring dad Tom and his son Maddox on Thursday.

"Xavier was under the water for 3 minutes and 22 seconds," Fleeup said.

"We're very happy to celebrate this positive outcome because far too often, these stories do not have a positive outcome," Fleeup added.

The fast-thinking father and son were thanked with certificates of heroism and coins for their life-saving measures.

A drowning can happen in as little as 30 seconds, according to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.

But drownings are preventable, the NDPA says. Layers of protection — including barriers and non-stop supervision — can save a child's life, according to the NPDA.

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