Two men used to putting their own lives on the line heard a mother’s screams then jumped into action to save a girl from drowning at a South Jersey campground.
The ordeal played out Friday afternoon at the pool at Echo Farms Campground in Upper Township, Cape May County. Laila Harper was playing with a snorkel in the pool while her mother put sunscreen on Laila's little sister, when her grandmother said the 4-year-old went under in 3-feet of water.
Joe Heffernan dove in and helped the girl’s mother get her out.
“She was completely blue and lifeless,” Heffernan told NBC10's Ted Greenberg a short time after the rescue. “For the life of God she was somewhere else for a good two to three minutes.”
Luckily for Laila, Heffernan, an 18-year-veteran of the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department and former Millbourne Borough Police Chief was there to perform CPR.
“I was doing what I’ve been taught to do for the last 30 years,” he said. “We train, and train, and train for situations like this.”
Retired SEPTA Police officer Ed Reynolds jumped in and began chest compressions as Heffernan performed mouth-to-mouth.
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“Instinct just took over,” said Reynolds.
“After about three minutes of doing CPR, she finally started to get her color back and her airway cleared and she regained consciousness,” said Heffernan.
When medics arrived, the girl was conscious again. They initially took the girl to Shore Medical Center in Somers Point but then transferred her to St. Christopher hospital for Children in Philadelphia for observation, said the family.
“Thank God all my experiences had prepared me because just the look on that mother’s face when I handed her her baby back, sitting up and crying was just – i got the chills just talking about it,” said Heffernan.
The pool has signs stating that there is no lifeguard on duty.
“In the right place at the right time,” said Reynolds. “Somebody was looking out.”
The save wasn't lost on the girl's family.
"I can't say enough for them," said a teary Kathy Harper. "They saved my granddaughter's life."
“Sometimes it’s a miracle where you’re placed but I was happy to do it and I’m really happy that mom got her daughter back,” said Heffernan.