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Matt and Sara Staker and their son Bronson, now 18 months, appear on TODAY. After being found facedown in a bath, Bronson was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.
TODAY contributor
updated 3/12/2010 10:31:47 AM ET 2010-03-12T15:31:47

Bronson Staker is a typical 18-month-old — which is to say, he wasn’t interested in what Mom and Dad were talking about with a stranger. Bronson was far more interested in fussing and squirming and grabbing his father’s cell phone and pretending to talk into it and doing all the delightful things that toddlers do.

None of this would be remarkable except for one fact: Six weeks ago, Bronson was dead.

That is not an overstatement. Bronson is not a a child who briefly lost consciousness after choking on a piece of candy. There’s no other way to describe his condition other than that one uncompromising word: dead.

Fatal distraction
Bronson’s mother, Sara Staker, had been bathing him and his 2-year-old brother in late January in the family’s Salt Lake City home. Momentarily distracted by one of her other two children, Sara briefly left the bathroom. When she came back, Bronson was facedown in the water, showing no signs of life.

“It was horrible. It was the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Sara told TODAY’s Lester Holt Friday in New York. “There was no question in my mind that he was gone. He was white, his lips were blue. His eyes were rolled back.”

Sara called 911 and started CPR on the lifeless little body. Bronson did not respond. First responders arrived and continued revival efforts. They, too, failed to restore a heartbeat.

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Bronson was pronounced DOA — dead on arrival.

Still, he was taken to the ER, where doctors took over resuscitation efforts. After 40 minutes, they finally restored a heartbeat while a ventilator pumped oxygen into Bronson’s lungs.

Experimental procedure
Now comes the miracle part of the story — the reason Bronson and his parents, Sara and Matt Staker, were sitting on a couch in TODAY’s New York studios, telling their story to Holt.

The doctors told Matt and Sara that there was a high likelihood that Bronson had suffered serious brain damage during the long period that he was clinically dead and his brain was deprived of oxygen. They said there was an experimental treatment called therapeutic hypothermia that might improve his chances of recovery. It would involve lowering Bronson’s body temperature to 91 degrees, almost eight degrees below normal, and putting him in a coma to reduce brain swelling. He would be maintained in that state for almost two weeks, and when he was warmed up and revived, he probably would not be the same boy they knew.

“We asked them, ‘If this was your own child, would you do it?’ They said, ‘Absolutely, yes,’ ” Matt told Holt.

Bronson Staker was put into an induced coma for 13 days. Doctors thought he would have neurological damage and predicted many months of rehabilitation.
The Stakers told the doctors to go ahead. Bronson was hooked up to more tubes and wires than his parents could count, covered with a blanket filled with chilling fluid, and put in intensive care. All his parents could do was look at him lying in his coma day after day, the tubes and machines breathing for him.

“It was excruciating, because every fiber of your being as a mother wants to hold your child, especially when they’re hurting,” Sara said. “You want to hold him and hug him and wrap him in a blanket and keep him warm.”

She said he was cold to the touch and puffy from all the fluids being pumped into him. “It was just excruciating,” she repeated.

As the day grew nearer when Bronson would be revived, doctors and therapists and rehabilitation experts advised the Stakers on what they could expect.

“We had been told we would probably take home a 16-month-old newborn,” Sara said. “We had been told probably it would be months of rehab, maybe even years.”

Sara Staker said that Bronson recognized her immediately upon being brought out of his coma. “The lights were on,” she said of him.
They were advised to get physical and occupational therapy equipment for their home and be prepared for a six-month regimen. “We were in it for the long haul,” Sara said.

Awake and alert
Thirteen days after Bronson died and was brought back to a cold and comatose existence, the doctors warmed his body and allowed him to regain consciousness. Sara entered the room and looked at him. He looked back and recognized his mother.

“I walked in the room and the lights were on. Immediately I could see that he was tracking and connecting and looking from one nurse to the other. When I walked in, he lifted his chin and I could see that he knew who I was,” Sara said.

This was beyond where anyone thought Bronson would be. And although he was weak, it was evident immediately that the tot was defying the odds. By the end of the day, he was standing up on his own. A day later he was walking. Two days later, he walked out of the hospital.

Bronson Staker with his parents and brothers in the hospital. Sara Staker said the toddler was immediately alert after surviving nearly drowning and a 13-day coma.
“Everything was there,” Matt said. “He was weak because he was lying down for [13] days, but all his cognitive [functions], how his brain works, it was still there.”

The doctors had given the Stakers a list of milestones that Bronson should reach in the first six months of his recovery. He hit them all in two days. A month later, he shows no signs of any damage. If anything, he’s learning vocabulary faster than he was before the accident, his parents report.

Sara, who has kept a blog of Bronson’s recovery, said it has taught her and Matt to believe that miracles are real. It’s also taught her something about life.

“The lessons we learned are innumerable,” she said. “Life is just so fragile. As parents, we’re so busy and we try to multitask things. It’s really easy to get distracted by the things that aren’t the most important things, and the things that are the most important suffer.

“I hope that we’ve learned those lessons.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Baby alive after being pronounced dead

  1. Closed captioning of: Baby alive after being pronounced dead

    from the "twilight" saga: softer feels better.

    >>> we're back now at 8:09 with a medical miracle. 1-year-old bronson steaker was left unattended in his bathtub and drowned. when he was pulled from the water, he had stopped breathing and had no pulse, but that is just the beginning of this incredible story.

    >> so, it was just a typical saturday morning here at our house.

    >> reporter: it was sarah staker's worst nightmare. while giving two of her sons a bath, the young mother briefly stepped away to do some chores, got distracted, and when she returned, the unthinkable. her youngest son , 16-month-old bronson , submerged in the tub.

    >> he was white. his eyes were rolled back in his head. his lips were blue. and the bathtub was so full.

    >> reporter: sarah 's frantic attempts at cpr didn't help bronson . even the emts couldn't revive him. when they reached the hospital, there was no pulse. bronson was not breathing.

    >> he was just gone. it was so fast and i just wanted to rewind. i just wanted to do it again and i just kept begging, please, baby, please, please, please wake up.

    >> reporter: doctors struggled to restore the child's heartbeat, eventually succeeding.

    >> our sweet little boy laid there with a tube in his mouth and wires and ivs, and i can't even count how many things he was connected to.

    >> reporter: but with bronson still in a coma, doctors suggested they try an innovative therapy called therapeutic hypothermia , using cooling blankets to drop his body's temperature and hopefully prevent brain damage .

    >> this is keeping your body temperature cool, but not so cold that you're preventing all your organs from working well. but it's really, just the idea is to keep the brain from all the cellular processes that can then worsen your outcome from happening.

    >> reporter: as bronson lay unconscious, his mother began putting her thoughts and emotions into words, writing a blog about the ordeal.

    >> we're trying not to think about the what-ifs and what thens, but are taking things hour by hour. we're still praying for a miracle.

    >> reporter: for nearly two weeks, nothing, then a miracle. bronson woke up, alert. he started to regain mental and motor functions.

    >> you could see it immediately, lifting just a little bit with his chin as he leaned forward and he could recognize -- he recognized me when i walked in the room.

    >> reporter: slowly but surely, the boy thought to be lost forever improved.

    >> they told us that bronson would have to leave the hospital in a wagon, that he wasn't going to be allowed to walk out of the hospital, but he had a mind of his own and he --

    >> he walked out.

    >> -- walked out on his own power.

    >> and i am pleased to say that bronson is here with us this morning with his parents sarah and matt. good morning to all of you.

    >> good morning.

    >> he looks and seems great.

    >> he's perfect.

    >> i mean, same little boy that you knew before.

    >> absolutely. it's almost unbelievable, really.

    >> sarah , let's go back to that horrible day. you cringed a moment ago when i used the word unattended in describing what happened. you and i talked before this segment. i think every parent has had that moment where they made a mistake, and most of us, thankfully, got away with it. describe what that moment was like when you went and saw bronson in the tub.

    >> it was horrible. it was the most helpless feeling i've ever had in my life, you know? to walk in and see that he was gone. there was no question in my mind that he was gone. he was white. his lips were blue. his eyes were rolled back. he didn't look like himself.

    >> as we noted, they couldn't revive him. matt, you guys got to the hospital, doctors worked and worked. had you resigned yourself to the thought and the belief you'd lost your son?

    >> i don't think at that point. his heart was beating, but they were breathing for him. however, it was an undescribable feeling. any parent would just be so distraught and traumatized to see their son or any child with all the wires and tubes in him it was terrible.

    >> and then in the middle of this, the doctors are saying, look, even if we revive him, he's not going to be normal. he's going -- there will be brain damage . and they had talked to you about this hypothermia therapy. what did you know? what were you told about it and was it a tough decision to make, sara ?

    >> it was excruciating because every fiber of your being as a mother wants to hold your child, especially when they're hurting. you want to hold him and hug him and wrap him in a blanket and keep him warm. and so, the thought that he would have to lay there, where we couldn't hold him, we couldn't touch him --

    >> in a coma.

    >> in a coma.

    >> with his body temperature drastically lowered.

    >> exactly. he was so cold and puffy from all the fluids they were pumping through him. and it was just excruciating.

    >> but matt, there was really no other choice, was there? i mean, what did they tell you, it was this or what?

    >> they gave us the option of going forward with the treatment, and we just asked them, we said, if this is your own child, would you do it? and they said absolutely, yes. so, we said, well, all of the positives outweighed very few negatives, so we went forward with it.

    >> and 13 days go by, sara , and you describe in the taped piece a moment ago that moment of watching him wake up. did you believe what you were seeing?

    >> you know, it had just been such a long -- i mean, you completely lose track of time there in the picu or the icu, and to walk in one morning and expect him to be the same child he had been with this whole interim of time was such a shock.

    >> but how quickly did you realize that he was the same child?

    >> instantly.

    >> because you -- really?

    >> instantly.

    >> because you had been told he probably wouldn't be.

    >> no. we were told we would probably take home a 16-month-old newborn. we were told probably it would be months of rehab, maybe even years, before he began to regain --

    >> but he recognized you.

    >> immediately. i walked in the room and it's like the lights were on, you know? immediately, i could see that he was tracking and connecting and looking from one nurse to the other, and when i walked in, he lifted his chin and i could see that he knew who i was. you know, there's that difference when someone looks past you and through you and kind of vacantly off or when they look at you and they know who you are. you can see that.

    >> yeah, and matt, i've seen some of the video, home videos you guys took where -- there you are playing with the toys, all those things. the connections, everything was there?

    >> everything was there. it was -- still he was weak because he was laying down for, you know, he was laying down for 11 days. so, of course, he was weak, but all of his cognitive of his brain was still there.

    >> and what do they say, he'll continue to grow -- the doctors -- progress at a normal pace?

    >> you know, before we left the hospital, they had suggested that we set up about six months worth of physical and occupational therapy appointments for him, and they had sat with me and made a list of things that he could do and was capable of before the incident, and we set those as goals, you know, for the next six months worth of therapy, we'll hope that by the end of that time, he'll be able to do all of those same things.

    >> sure.

    >> we'll re-evaluate and set six more months of therapy. so, we were in it for the long haul. and from the time he woke up until the time we left the hospital on friday morning, the 12th of february, he hit every single one of those milestones.

    >> oh, that 's wonderful .

    >> it's like we were living the first year of his life all over again in fast-forward. it was incredible.

    >> this story gives me chills, i'll tell you.

    >> it was amazing.

    >> it has got to fundamentally change you as a couple, you as a family. how many ways has it changed you?

    >> well, i think that the scope of what we've learned goes far beyond the bathtub, you know? i think that the lessons that we've learned are innumerable. i feel like life is just so fragile, and it's -- as parents, you know, we're so busy and we try to multitask things and do so many different things and it's really easy to get distracted by the things that aren't the most important things, and then the things that are most important suffer. and i hope that we've learned that lesson. i hope that we've learned, most of all, that god is the god of miracles. he's a loving father in heaven and that he hears us. he knows what we need. he answers our prayers. he answers the prayers of the thousands of people that we don't even know from around the world that were praying for us.

    >> and i know a lot of strangers rallied for bronson and for you. and i just want to thank all of you for coming on and sharing this story and the life lessons that came with it. matt and sara and bronson , who's just having a great old time here. we're so happy to see him having a great old time and we're so happy for all of you. thank you, again, for being with


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