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Amazing Survival of Woman Who Drowns and Collides with Boat Propeller

Robert Hull - 700 Club Producer

Destin, FL

“I thought her bathing suit had gotten caught and entangled into the prop,” says Chelsey Dorn. “And in that moment, I was trying to just help her up. I was like, oh, maybe that’s what it is, and then I realized she was drowning.” 

Memorial Day weekend 2019, Phil Dorn along with his wife, Lee Ann, and daughter, Chelsey, enjoyed a day of boating with friends in Destin, Florida.

“Eight of us set out for a little bit of time in the Destin Harbor and Crab Island and-and some of the fun spots on the water here in the Destin area,” says Phil.

Towards the end of the day, Lee Ann and Chelsey went swimming one last time. Moments later Chelsey noticed her mom underwater and began screaming for help.

“I wasn’t really sure what had happened until I got to the back of the boat and saw Lee Ann basically impaled up against the-the back of the boat into the blades of the motor," says Phil.

Lee Ann had slipped off the ladder and fallen onto the propeller which was still spinning. They struggled to separate her from the prop before finally getting her back on the boat minutes later.

“And all I could think about at that moment was we have taken too long, this isn’t--too long of a rescue, too much, you know, and it-it just hit me right then...it-it wasn’t happening,” says Phil.

“My mom was not breathing at all. I gave her two rescue breaths and in those rescue breaths she did cough and open her eyes,” says Chelsey. “I felt a slight sense of hope and relief in that moment and immediately just grabbed onto her organs, because I knew that we had to keep them in and as close to her body as we could.”

Heartbroken and overwhelmed, Phil turned to God for help. “I started praying on the boat when I was holding her up by her shoulders. Uh I-I knew we were in a-a very difficult time and moment,” says Phil. “So many thoughts are going through you. But uh, you know, I was praying for my wife, and I was praying for my daughter and-and uh my son, too, because you just don’t know what’s going on at that moment.”

They rushed Lee Ann to shore where they were met by emergency responders. Chelsey called her brother, Karl, and told him to get to the scene. “They blocked off a huge area and then when I saw the helicopter come in, that’s when I kind of realized how serious it actually was,” says Karl.

When they arrived at the hospital, they were told the severity of her injuries. “’Mr. Dorn, I-I need to tell you that there’s nothing we can do for your wife right now,’ And uh, and she said, ‘She’s too unstable and all we can do is-is try to keep her comfortable,’” says Phil. “At that moment, all we could do, and-and I told them all we could do is start to pray, and-and to get as many people to pray with us as we could.”

Lee Ann clung to life. She had a collapsed lung from drowning and her kidneys had shut down. Doctors were able to perform emergency surgery. Then a second surgery followed that flushed the salt water from her abdomen. Thankfully, her kidneys quickly revived.

“And we saw firsthand the way those prayers helped us,” says Chelsey, “And I’m beyond grateful.”

Before bringing her out of the medically induced coma, doctors did an EEG and discovered burst suppressions, a condition that causes brain damage and eventually leads to death.

The family’s prayers intensified. “I just remember weeping, just begging God that I would do anything if she would be okay,” says Karl. “It was just weird, it was just like all of a sudden, like everything that I was worried about just kind of went away, that was like the first time in my life I actually ever felt more than just saying stuff, like I actually ever felt God.”

The next day a second EEG provided a miraculous report.

“The neurosurgeon came back in the room and said, ‘This is unbelievable, but we found no burst suppressions and we can see no damage at this time. You-you have to understand, this just doesn't happen,’” says Phil.

“Our family doctor told us, ‘There’s no medical explanation to this. Absolutely none. You just witnessed a miracle,’ were his exact words,” says Chelsey.

Lee Ann soon stabilized. She spent 12 days in the ICU and was discharged on day 16. Her journey hasn’t been easy, but all involved experienced the power of prayer and God’s goodness during their time of need.

“I truly know that it was prayer and-and God who saved me, absolutely,” says Lee Ann. “I believe it was the faith behind the prayers that God heard, and God saved me and I’m a million percent happy that I’m still here, yes.”

“Now she gets to meet her granddaughter and gets to be here for weddings and gets to be a part of things that I thought I wasn’t gonna get to have my mom for,” says Chelsey. 

“When you ask me how she is today, ‘I think she is fantastic. Because I remember that moment. And I remember those moments for me, it-it's miraculous to see where she’s come from. From that moment in ICU to what I see now. We-we all realized that it was God that performed all these things and we were fortunate to be a part of it and-and to see it,’” says Phil.

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