A 12-year-old boy who spent 25 minutes underwater in the Pacific Ocean before being rescued appears to be making a miraculous recovery in an Oregon hospital, five days after the ordeal.
The breathing tube that had been keeping Charles "Dale" Ostrander alive since he was pulled from the water unconscious and not breathing was removed Monday, leaving friends and family amazed at his recovery.
According to the blog, prayersfordale.blogspot.com, set up in his honor, at 4:11 p.m. Monday, "The doctors just removed Dale's breathing tube and he is now breathing on his own. Also, because of possible damage to the brain, they were unsure if he would be able to speak. Minutes after the tube was removed, the doctors told him to cough. Not only did Dale talk back to the doctors, he responded in a full sentence saying, "I don't have to."
Ostrander, of Spanaway, Wash., was swimming in the waters off the Washington coast with members of his church youth group Aug. 5 when he was caught in a riptide and pulled underwater just north of Long Beach, Wash.
First on the scene was 12-year-old Nicole Kissel, who heard Ostrander yelling for help and tried to keep them both afloat using her surfboard.
"I let him on the board first, and I got on top of him, grabbed the board and he said, 'Keep kicking, keep kicking,'" she said.
While Kissel managed to make it back to shore, the waves and swift current became too powerful to resist for Ostrander, who was pulled underwater for 20 to 25 minutes.
"I got up there, and I grasped the sand and said, 'He's dead.' I'm like, 'What am I supposed to do?,'" Kissel said.
Once rescuers from a volunteer surf rescue team finally spotted Ostrander and managed to pull the boy from the sea, he was not conscious and not breathing, and no one expected him to live.
Damian Mulinix, a photojournalist from the Chinook Observer newspaper who had responded to the beach rescue, captured scenes on the beach, where the other children from Ostrander's church group sobbed and prayed.
"They were crying, face-down on the ground, praying -- it was a heart-wrenching scene," Mulinix said.
Medics waiting on the shore started CPR on Ostrander immediately and, finally, after reaching a nearby hospital, his pulse returned.
A medical helicopter then flew Ostrander to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, where he was placed in a medically-induced coma.
The prognosis looked grim over the weekend, and the boy's parents feared the worst.
"They never expected him to live," the boy's father, Chad Ostrander, who was at the beach at the time of the incident along with his wife, Kirsten, said. "They expected him to be a vegetable -- never walk, never talk, never say a word."
Doctors in Portland tried one more time to reach Ostrander on Sunday night, easing him off sedatives and calling his name. This time, the young boy opened his eyes and blinked.
"That was when we knew, hey, maybe there is a miracle that's happening here," Chad said.
Dr. Benjamin Abella, director of clinical research in the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania, said rather than a miracle, Ostrander's survival may be due to the fact that the waters in which he was submerged were sufficiently frigid.
"A number of studies have shown that hypothermia -- reduced body temperature -- is highly protective of the brain when it is starved for oxygen and blood flow," Abella said. "The water that bathed him was certainly quite cold, and its likely that his core body temperature dropped during his cardiac arrest event."
Abella said Ostrander's age and overall health may have also factors in his survival.
"There have been a number of reported cases where people have been rescued from icy water and restored to health," he said. "These cases are not common, but they aren't as rare as one might think."
On Tuesday, the blog was updated again with a report that Ostrander continues to make progress.
"This morning at 8 o'clock, he said 'morning' to his parents," reads the blog. "He kept trying to get out of bed. When his dad told him that he can't get out of bed, he said very emphatically, "Yes I can!" Dale's dad says that Dale is answering "yes" and "no" questions. He is also following voices with his eyes. The day nurse is quite amazed at the progress made!"
Despite the amazing survival story, doctors have cautioned the Ostranders that their son faces a difficult road ahead of physical therapy, and could have permanent brain damage.
The physicians "were very clear that he had been under for too long, had been without oxygen for too long," Kirsten Ostrander said, adding, "We trust (God) no matter what.
"If he chooses to take Dale to heaven, and if he still chooses that, then he's still good," she said. "And if he chooses to bless us and give us back our son, he's still good."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.