On March 30, a little after 5 pm, four of the five Pulk family siblings, Madi, 8, Emily, 7, and twin brothers John and Henry, 5, were using long sticks to pretend fish for ice chunks in a ditch near their home just north of Strathcona. Moving from Wannaska to this home in December, none of the children had seen the landscape around their home without snow, including the other side of the ditch where they were pretend fishing, but on this day, they had that chance.
Madi had started back to the house and Emily would begin to do the same, but John and Henry stayed back, wanting to get that last fish before it eventually floated into the culvert. Wanting to get closer to the water, John would step on what he thought were sticks, but they weren’t.
They were actually pieces of debris from the fields that had washed down into the culvert and were floating on the water. John fell into the drainage ditch, moving at least five miles per hour estimated John’s father Andrew, and John would get swept into the culvert. The journey to save John’s life would begin, headed by his sister Madi, one that proved successful.
Henry had watched his brother fall into the water. He saw John’s head pop back up above the water and then saw him spin down the “swirly,” where the water spun and kicked him through the culvert and to the other side of it. Henry went to the other side and saw John’s head come up again. He then yelled for Emily, the closest sibling at that time.
Emily came running back and went into the water to try and get John.
“She (Emily) said I couldn’t reach him mom,” said the children’s mom Heidi. “I couldn’t reach him.”
Emily yelled for Madi, who was still walking back to the house at that time. Madi turned around and came running back and told Emily to go to the house and get their mom. Madi would take off her pink Bogs boots to allow her to run faster. She got into the water, and swam across the ditch to get John, unable to touch the bottom. She knew how to swim, having attended swimming lessons in Greenbush.
“It’s really, really deep and the water’s very cold,” Madi later said about the ditch.
She would pull him out of the water, from the hoodie of his coat and onto the other side of the ditch — the field side— and sat him on a snowbank.
Asked what was going through her mind when she pulled John out of the ditch, Madi said, “I was scared if he was going to die or something like that.”
John would lay there unresponsive and would not be wearing his own Bog boots at that time, due to them being pulled off by the force of the water. Madi then began performing CPR.
“He literally had died. He had nothing there. They (his boots) just fell right off of his feet,” Heidi said. “… With his boots, that’s like his biggest prized possession. So that’s probably, from what John remembers at this point, that’s his biggest traumatic thing is that he lost his boots. So that’s coming from a five year old.”
Heidi would be in the house with her oldest daughter Sarah, 11, and Andrew would be out working in the field, when Emily came into the house. Heidi first explained how Emily can be a bit dramatic by nature. She couldn’t hear what Emily was saying right away when she came into the house, focused on the fact that she was wet from head to toe.
“She’s like, ‘He’s drowning. He’s drowning.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, what puddle are you in?’ Because they always play and so then all of a sudden… again, I said, ‘Well, what puddle are you in? What are you talking about?’ And she said, ‘The ditch.’ And at that point, I didn’t even have socks or shoes on, literally was in my bare feet. And we just took off and ran as fast as we could down the gravel.”
On their way to John, about halfway down the driveway, Heidi told her daughter Sarah to go back to the house to get her phone. After about a minute of Madi giving CPR, John eventually coughed up water and regained consciousness. When Heidi arrived on the scene, John’s eyes were open, but not focused on anything. He was beginning to moan, but wasn’t responsive to anything Heidi was saying.
“He was so cool. He was just absolutely ice cold and he was just so wet, well, obviously. But, so I picked him up, and I brought him up closer to the road, just to get him off of the snowbank,” Heidi said. “… Then my daughter (Sarah) met me right on the side of the road, and I called 911. I had set him down and I called 911.”
The Greenbush Ambulance picked him up and met up with and switched him into the Roseau Ambulance. During his trip to Roseau, medical personnel did stabilize John. Once at the Roseau Hospital, John was warmed up and given oxygen.
They eventually gave him a chest x-ray and discovered that he had aspirated water and other particles in his lungs— called aspiration pneumonia. He was admitted to the hospital as medical personnel decided on the best plan for him moving forward, deciding to take to Sanford Hospital in Fargo. He arrived at Sanford in the early morning hours on March 31. At 11 am that day, they did another scan.
“They (medical personnel) said, ‘Well, you’re not going to believe this, but this is actually the results we wanted and weren’t expecting until tomorrow,’” Heidi said. “But everything had cleared up so quickly.”
By about 1 pm, less than 24 hours since his accident, John was headed home. An ER doctor at Sanford was “very much in the loop” on John’s case the entire time, even when he was in Roseau, Heidi explained.
“When they had gotten down to Stanford, the emergency doctor had to come in and see it for himself,” Heidi said. “And he was very clear to my husband, ‘Just so you understand, this is not how these situations end.’ He goes, ‘I needed to see this because this whole situation, just between the stats and… the story on how everything played out… to be able to see him laughing and joking and giggling, that is not how these cases end.”
From this story, Heidi hopes people learn the following lessons: not to take anything for granted, knowing whether their children understand what to do in emergencies, and most of all, loving their children and hugging them everyday.
“Right now our surroundings are changing very quickly. We’re telling our kids to go out and play for recess. We’re all kind of stuck with this coronavirus thing,”Heidi said. “But at the same time, we need to make sure that our children are safe. But also above that, just understanding that our children are pretty amazing, and they can do some amazing things right now.”
To see the full story, read the April 8 issue of The Tribune in print or online.