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Laura Adams accidentally fell asleep at the wheel and her car wound up upside-down in a creek with her twin toddlers, Lexi and Troy, inside. Paramedics estimate Troy was underwater for 15 to 17 minutes.
TODAY contributor
updated 4/6/2010 10:06:56 AM ET 2010-04-06T14:06:56

The little boy was doing what 2-year-olds do, which is to say he couldn’t sit still — couldn’t sit at all, really — and anything left lying around was going to end up on the floor.

What made this totally normal behavior remarkable is that just six weeks ago, the same boy was pulled from a wrecked car after spending nearly 20 minutes submerged in an Ohio creek.

“He’s almost back to himself,” Troy Adams’ mother, Laura Adams, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Tuesday in New York. As she said that, Troy was busy scattering scripts on the floor and inspecting everything in sight.

Adams said that Troy still has some recovery ahead of him, but doctors think that he’ll quickly regain all of his functions as he chases his twin sister, Lexi, around, trying to keep up with her.

Rude awakening
Laura Adams told Lauer about the day when she was sure she had lost Troy.

It was Feb. 24, and she had picked up Lexi and Troy from day care after her shift at work. Driving home on a rural road, she briefly fell asleep at the wheel of her compact car. When she woke up, the car was drifting off the road. She tried to correct but instead crashed through a guardrail and ended up upside-down in 3 feet of frigid water in a creek.

“I was completely underwater, drowning. I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna die,’ ” Adams told Lauer.

She had not been wearing a seat belt and was able to swim out the window. She tried to get her twins out of their booster seats in the back, but was unable to.

Frantic, Adams waved down a passing motorist, who joined her in the creek. Together, she and the man who stopped to help were able to free Lexi, but they couldn’t get Troy out of the crushed vehicle.

Lexi’s condition wasn’t promising at first, either. Adams estimates that her daughter had been underwater as long as 5 minutes.

“At first, she wasn’t responding. About the time the paramedics showed up, she started puking and breathing on her own,” Adams said.

‘Troy’s dead’
But Troy was another matter. As rescuers worked frantically to cut the car open and get the boy out, he wasn’t breathing and the clock was ticking. By the time he was freed, he had been submerged in the frigid water for an estimated 15 to 17 minutes. His body was cold and he showed no signs of life.

Troy survived being trapped underwater for 15 minutes, but doctors feared he would suffer brain damage.
“When I called my family, all I could say was, ‘Troy’s dead,’ ” Adams told Lauer. “They had just gotten him out of the water at that time. I had no idea he would make it.”

She wasn’t the only one with that thought. Sitting next to her in Studio 1A was Dr. Michael Bigham, who had supervised Troy’s care at Akron Children’s Hospital.

“He was lifeless. He was not responding to pain,” Bigham said of Troy’s condition when he arrived. After not breathing at all for at least a quarter of an hour, the toddler was being ventilated with the aid of a tracheotomy — a tube in his throat. He was also suffering from hypothermia.

Knowing that other children have survived relatively unscathed after lengthy submersion in very cold water, Bigham and his team of doctors did not immediately warm Troy up, choosing to keep his body cool for the first 24 hours in the hospital.

Doctors predict that striving to keep up with his twin will aid Troy’s recovery.
Just the same, Bigham was not encouraging to Adams.

“When children go without oxygen for a long period of time, their brains can sometimes be permanently damaged. That’s the conversation I had with Laura that evening, that I was concerned that Troy’s brain would be irreversibly damaged,” Bigham said.

“They said he was not going to make it through the night,” is how Adams remembered the conversation.

‘A lucky kid’
But Troy did make it through that night, and the next one, and the one after that. As he continued to improve, Bigham adjusted his expectations of how much function the boy would regain.

Children’s brains are plastic and can rewire themselves and recover function much more easily than adult brains. Bigham believes that keeping Troy’s body temperature below normal at first also helped.

Troy and his twin sister Lexi both played like normal toddlers in Studio 1A.
“There’s some protection provided by the cold water,” Bigham said. “That is surely what saved Troy’s life and allowed him to be so high-functioning at this point.”

MRIs show that Troy’s brain is normal, although he still has some difficulty swallowing and was on a feeding tube during more than a month in the hospital and its rehab center.

“As long as he continues to progress at the rate he’s been progressing, there is no reason to expect he won’t fully recover. He’s showed no plateauing at all,” Bigham said. “He’s a lucky kid.”

He’s also a busy kid. His forearm decorated with a temporary tattoo, Troy continued his inspection tour of the studio as his mom and Bigham talked with Lauer. He even ignored his sister when she took a tumble and needed huggy time with Mom.

There were manila folders to open, papers to scatter on the floor, things to see and do. Full of life — not to mention spit and vinegar — he wasn’t going to miss any of it.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Tot trapped inside submerged car survives

  1. Closed captioning of: Tot trapped inside submerged car survives

    >>> nbc .

    >>> we're back at 8:37 with another survival story that's nothing short of a miracle. a tragic accident that could have killed the adams family , including 2-year-old troy who was trapped under water in his car seat for 15 minutes . we'll talk to troy's mother laura in a moment. but first, their incredible ordeal. one look at this car, and it's hard to imagine anyone survived. the accident happened along this rural ohio road.

    >> the car was over there.

    >> reporter: laura adams had just picked up her twins , electric lexy and troy from daycare when she fell asleep at the wheel .

    >> the car came this way and smashed into this guardrail.

    >> reporter: adams and her twins were trapped in the car upside down and under three feet of water.

    >> i was completely under water, drowning. i was thinking i died.

    >> reporter: she managed to free herself, and with the help of a passer by, also freed lexi. troy wasn't so lucky.

    >> troy spent about 15 minutes with no pulse, not breathing.

    >> reporter: paramedics performed a life-saving tracheotomy. still , troy was suffering from hypothermia and had a very weak pulse. doctors had devastating news.

    >> basically he was not going to make it through the night.

    >> reporter: but in the week since the accident, troy has proven everybody wrong.

    >> i was very happy to be wrong.

    >> reporter: doctors think the cold water may actually have protected troy's brain and helped him survive. miraculously, troy isn't only surviving, he's thriving.

    >> to see troy in the state he's in now, compared to seeing him lifeless is remarkable to me.

    >> reporter: his twin lexy was released after only two nights in the hospital and and therapists say troy will be extra motivated to relearn motor skills to keep up with his sister. troy, who turned 2 in the hospital, came home 32 days later to a belated birthday party . a birthday doctors thought he would never celebrate and a recovery for the record books. laura adams is here along with her twins , troy and lexy and the doctor who treated them from the akron children's hospital. good morning to all of you. i just have to cut right to the end here. he's been running around, playing with your phone, playing with my scripts. he seems fine . absolutely fine after all this.

    >> doing awesome.

    >> do you notice any lasting effects whatsoever?

    >> a little bit the way he walks and talks but he's almost back to himself.

    >> a little slower. take me back, laura , to the day this happened. i doze after at wheel even for a split second. the car goes off that embankment into the canal. you wake up, you're upside down in that water.

    >> right.

    >> so how long did it take to you get out of the car and how hard was it?

    >> about five minutes, i would guess. three or four minutes. it seemed like a lot longer.

    >> got your seatbelt off --

    >> i didn't have a seatbelt on.

    >> how did you get out? through the door or the window?

    >> i swam out a window.

    >> out a window. i know you tried to get your kids out. you were having a lot of trouble. you screamed and a passer by came by and helped you get lexy out. how long do you think she was in that car?

    >> a little over five minutes, maybe.

    >> when she got out what condition was she in?

    >> at first she wasn't responding. but about the time the paramedics showed up she started puking and breathing on her own.

    >> at least you knew she was okay. i'm trying to imagine as a parent what it must be like, even as you're concerned for lexy , you haven't gotten troy out of that car yet, he's under water. he's now been under water and the clock is ticking, getting longer and longer. did you have any hope he would get out alive?

    >> no. when i called my family, all i could say was troy's dead. because they had just got him out of the water at that time. i had no idea he would make it.

    >> doctor, sounds like a blunt and strange question -- why didn't he die?

    >> that's a great question. i have a conversation i have with families that have -- whose children's hearts have stopped.

    >> excuse me one second. we had a little -- go ahead, doctor. she's okay, i think. i think she's okay.

    >> when children go without oxygen for that prolonged period of time , the brain can sometimes be permanently damaged. and that's the conversation i had with laura that evening, is that i was concerned that troy's brain would be irreversibly damaged. we do think there is some protection provided by the cold water that is surely what saved troy's life and allowed him to be so high functioning at this point.

    >> laura , was troy this mischievous before the accident? because he's having a ball over here with meredith 's scripts. you kept him in a medically induced coma for a little while? is that correct?

    >> that's correct. the ems providers, the community hospital, the transport team that cared for him did a terrific job. we brought him in but he was lifeless. he was not responding to pain and what we did for him is, rather than rewarm him to a normal temperature, we did keep him cool for the first 24 hours after the accident, thinking that that somehow protects the brain.

    >> laura mentioned she seems a couple of lingering effects. do you think there will be any long-term effect from this accident?

    >> i've had conversations with the rehab specialist whose have been caring for troy on a daily basis. their expectations are that as long as he continues to progress at the rate he's been progressing, there is no reason to think he won't fully recover. he showed no plateauing at all. he's continuing to improve.

    >> they are lucky kids and you're a lucky mom, laura . you really are. we're happy this worked out this way. troy, did you have fun? careful, don't fall. laura , thanks very much. lexy , nice to see you. troy, good to see you. doctor, thanks for being here.

    >>> up next, no fuss italian


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