Sept. 6, 2011 — -- It was an ordinary summer day when Charles "Dale" Ostrander went to the beach with his church group. As his mother dropped him off, Dale, 12, made his customary sign of a heart for her, and she showed it back to him.
A few hours later, her son was fighting for his life after being dragged under by a riptide off the shores of Washington. He spent an estimated 20 minutes under water in the chilly Pacific Ocean, and when rescuers pulled him out, he had no pulse and wasn't breathing.
But, remarkably, Dale survived.
And even though he's still in the hospital, and doesn't speak much now, and has to undergo grueling therapy, the Spanaway, Wash., boy is walking, dressing himself, and learning to talk all over again.
In an interview with ABC News at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, Wash., Dale's parents, Chad and Kirsten Ostrander, say their son's survival is nothing short of a miracle.
"I think God answered a lot of people's prayers," Chad Ostrander said.
Click HERE to learn more about Dale's progress.
Dale's dramatic Aug. 5 rescue made headlines across the nation.
The currents were strong that day and as Dale waded in just a little, the powerful riptide tugged his feet out from under him and swept him away.
Nicole Kissel, 12, was on her boogie board nearby when she heard Ostrander yelling for help.
"I heard some boy say 'help, help me,'" Kissel said. Ignoring the pleas of her father to come ashore, she used her board to swim into the churning waves and grab Ostrander.
"When I got to him I put him on the board, I grabbed the board and several waves hit us, one of the waves knocked us off," she said.
Emergency responders performed CPR and started and IV. At the hospital, Dale was placed in a medically induced coma. Four days later, he opened his eyes.
Nicole Kissel visited him that week, and he told her "thank you."
Since then, many have asked whether his survival was a due to the CPR, the cold water -- the ocean temperature was around 56 degrees, or something else.
"This is a miracle from God because it goes against the laws of nature," Terry Minge, the Ostrander family's pastor, said.
Dr. Benjamin Abella, director of clinical research in the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania, said 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 it's likely that his core body temperature dropped during his cardiac arrest event."
Abella said Ostrander's age and overall health may have also been 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."
Doctors believe that he's making remarkable progress.
"He has definitely surprised a lot of people ...," Dr. John Benson, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Good Samaritan Hospital, said. "We've definitely noted progress since he's been here. And where he'll go from here, we don't know."
Dale may not speak a lot, but the Ostranders say their son definitely understands what he hears.
"He gets frustrated because he can't communicate what he does hear and understand ... so even though it's, it's there, I mean he's got memory --- he remembers his dog, Peanut, he remembers his sisters, he remembers movies that he's watched," Dale's father said.
His parents say they see signs of Dale's old self coming back every day. He's again making the heart symbol for his mother -- using his fingers.
No matter where Dale goes from here, his parents say their prayers have already been answered.
"I can't wrap my mind around the fact that he's sitting here with us today. So from what God has done in our lives up to this point, I can put no limitations on what ... can happen from here on out," Chad Ostrander said.
ABC News' David Wright and Alicia Tejada, along with The Associated Press and John Capell contributed to this story.