July 22, 2013 at 8:51 AM ET
The parents of a 6-year-old boy who has made a remarkable recovery after being trapped beneath 11 feet of sand are thankful for the effort that resulted in him being pulled out alive.
Nathan Woessner was enjoying a summer afternoon with his father and a friend on the shores of Lake Michigan on July 12 when he scampered up a sand dune and vanished in an instant. Woessner was buried under 11 feet of sand on Mount Baldy, a 126-foot sand dune at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
The 6-year-old from Sterling, Ill., spent more than three hours trapped below ground, but somehow survived until rescue workers were able to pull him to safety. They rushed him to University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, and doctors expect him to make a full recovery.
Nathan is currently doing “exceptionally well” and has been up and moving around, the boy's father, Greg Woessner, told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Monday.
“We’re just very, very grateful for everything they did for Nathan,’’ his mother, Faith Woessner, told Guthrie. “We can’t express our gratitude enough for the rescuers, and the nursing staff and everyone that’s helped bring Nathan back to us, and we’re thankful to God for being there with us and bringing Nathan back to us.”
The ordeal began when Woessner and an 8-year-old friend were climbing up Mount Baldy with their fathers and Nathan was swallowed under the sand. The mother of Woessner’s friend called 911 as the two men and the boy began to frantically try to dig out Woessner with their hands as he sank deeper and deeper into the sand.
“I just remember (Nathan’s friend) Colin kind of hollering and screaming that Nathan fell in a hole,’’ Greg Woessner said. “From there, just utter chaos.”
“I just had such panic and fear and desperation to get to him,’’ Faith Woessner said. “I remember watching the backhoe digging and they were soaked in sweat and covered in sand and they were just digging.”
Authorities called in utility crews with heavy equipment, eventually digging 11 feet down for more than three hours before spotting the top of Woessner’s head. He was still upright, having apparently sunk straight down. Authorities belief a sunken tree may have created an air pocket that allowed him to survive.
“There’s probably a million different things,’’ Greg Woessner remembered about the moments after Nathan disappeared. “Just frantically wanting to get to him. The sense of calmness held me tight just to focus on what we needed to do that day. I just don’t have an answer. Focus, right on him, the whole time.”
The child was airlifted to University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, where he surprised doctors with his ability to breathe on his own even though he was short of breath because of sand in his lungs. He was initially listed in critical condition and had to be intubated for six days so doctors could clear his airways of sand.
He has had two procedures in the hospital to clear his lungs, and is expected to be released from the hospital this week. His doctors expect him to make a full neurological recovery, but he may continue to suffer from lingering lung issues.
“Whether you want to call it a miracle or just the best luck in the entire world, the holes in the Swiss cheese lined up just right for this kid,” Dr. Rachel Wolfson of the University of Chicago Medical Center told TODAY Monday.
Find more information on how you can help Nathan Woessner's family, here.