Angelo and Domingo Bermudez don’t consider themselves heroes.
“We don’t look at it like that; we just had to save our niece,” Angelo said Sunday.
The teenage brothers said they used their instincts after their 18-month-old niece, Milania Bertolotti, was found lifeless at the bottom of their family’s swimming pool. They performed CPR on little Milania and got the toddler breathing again.
“I think they’re heroes; they saved her,” said Norma Bermudez, Milania’s grandmother. She says their story could have ended tragically had her sons not been around to help.
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Ceres city officials are recognizing the brothers’ heroic effort this evening during the City Council meeting. Officials also are recognizing the efforts of dispatcher Amanda Rodriguez, who assisted the brothers as they revived their niece, and the medics who treated Milania on her way to the hospital.
Two weeks after the near-drowning, Milania is doing well with no apparent effects from the loss of oxygen she experienced over a few minutes.
“Thank heaven she’s fine, she’s normal and healthy,” her grandmother said.
The incident occurred shortly after 10 a.m. Feb. 22 in the family’s backyard on Sagittarius Avenue in Ceres. Milania’s mother was at work and the little girl’s grandmother was baby-sitting.
Norma Bermudez said she went to check on her granddaughter after she lost sight of her momentarily. She noticed the house was a little too quiet and the sliding glass door leading to the backyard was open. She went outside and found Milania in the deep end of the swimming pool.
The toddler had been known to dart toward the pool, Norma said, and they would often have grab her before she jumped in. This time, nobody was around to stop her.
Norma said she leaped into the pool, but she is not a strong swimmer and couldn’t reach the girl at the bottom. She screamed for help.
Domingo was on his way to work, but he said he got held up at home looking for his wallet. He didn’t want to drive without his license. Now, he said he shudders to think what could have happened to his niece had he not lost his wallet that morning and left for work on time.
“If I would’ve left, she probably would’ve died,” he said.
He said he heard his mother screaming, so he ran to the backyard as fast as he could. He said he had never heard his mother scream like that before.
Domingo, a 19-year-old experienced swimmer, dove into the pool and grabbed his niece’s arm.
“I seen her at the bottom of the pool, and I just pulled her,” he said.
He said he got the girl out of the water and placed her on the pool deck. Norma said she instructed her son to start CPR, telling him not to stop until an ambulance arrived. Norma and her sons had not been trained to perform CPR, they said.
“The instincts just took over,” Domingo said. “I started doing chest compressions under her rib cage.”
It was a technique he had seen before, he said, possibly on television. As her son worked to revive her granddaughter, Norma said, she went inside to call 911.
In the meantime, Ceres police said they had received reports from neighbors who had heard a woman screaming, so officers were already on their way. So, too, was an ambulance crew who had been alerted to the possible drowning at the Bermudez home.
Angelo, 17, said he was inside his bedroom listening to music on his headphones, so he didn’t hear his mother’s screams.
“My mom came into my room, and she was soaking wet,” he said.
Angelo said she told him to go outside and help his brother. He said he had no clue what he was going to encounter in the backyard. He said he found his brother applying chest compressions on his niece, who was showing no signs of life. It’s the kind of image that makes you weak in the knees, he said.
“She wasn’t moving,” Angelo said. “It was like he was working on a dead body.”
Angelo said he stepped in and started performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, trying to blow air into the little girl’s lungs. He said he soon started tasting the milk Milania drinks, which “showed me she’s not gone.”
Norma said she was on the phone speaking with Rodriguez, a Valleycom call-taker. The grandmother said she was frantically trying to explain what was happening as Rodriguez was trying to calm her down. Norma said the dispatcher told her to hand the phone to whomever was with the child.
Angelo said he put the phone on speaker, so they could listen to Rodriguez’s instructions as they continued their lifesaving efforts. Angelo said he was screaming to his niece to revive her, but that his brother remained calm throughout the ordeal.
“(Rodriguez) told us to stay calm,” Angelo said.
Milania started coughing up water and more milk, and the brothers said Rodriguez told them to tilt her on her side so the liquids could pour out of her mouth.
Then, Domingo said, he picked up his niece and patted her back, while Angelo told his mother they got her granddaughter breathing again. The dispatcher told them to count the girl’s breaths. Milania’s eyes were open, but she wasn’t speaking or crying yet.
Angelo said the ambulance arrived quickly, and the medics stepped in and took over. Norma said she was still frantic, but then she heard her granddaughter screaming inside the ambulance, which was a good sign.
“That’s when I knew she was alive,” Norma said.
Norma said Milania was first treated at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto before she was taken to Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland as a precaution. She was soon released after doctors were sure her oxygen levels had returned to normal, her grandmother said.
Norma said the doctors who treated her granddaughter called her a “miracle baby” because she survived without need for further medical treatment.
The Bermudez family said the traumatic incident is still tough for them to think about. Norma said she hadn’t discussed all the details with her sons until Sunday, as they recalled the events. They said they have made some changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
A couple of days after the near drowning, the family said they installed a 5-foot iron fence around the pool, and said Milania’s mother has signed the toddler up for swimming lessons. The family said it plans to participate in an upcoming CPR training course hosted by the Ceres Police Department.
Her family says Milania is a little afraid to be around the pool, but they hope the swimming lessons will help ease her fears.
Kristine Bermudez, Milania’s mom, says she is trained to perform CPR on infants, but doesn’t think she would have been as effective as her brothers. Grateful doesn’t begin to explain how she feels about her brothers, she said.
“I know I wouldn’t have stayed as calm as they did,” she said. “I now look at them, and that’s all I see – what they did for her.”