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Sandy León recalls the harrowing day her young daughter fell into the swimming pool



May 4, 2023 GMT

HOUSTON (AP) — Sandy León has worn many jersey numbers during a long career in Major League Baseball.

To understand the seriousness of the number 12 gracing the catcher’s uniform with the Texas Rangers this season, he must relive the worst day of his life.

That was August 18, 2020. León, then playing for Cleveland, had just arrived by bus at the team hotel in Pittsburgh when he called his wife Liliana, who was at home in Fort Myers, Florida, with their two small children.

He started to worry after several unanswered calls. Then he started getting alerts from his home security system.

“That happens when someone makes a lot of noise in the house, when the camera picks up the sounds,” León said.

He logged into an app that allows him to monitor the cameras in their home. He discovered a gruesome scene involving Liliana and their then 15-month-old daughter, Nahomy.

“My wife screamed and she prayed,” León recalls. She said words I didn’t understand. Then I saw (Nahomy) lying on the ground. She was purple. She was dead.”

Little Nahomy had walked out and slipped through an open gate to a backyard pool. She fell into the water while trying to grab a rubber duck.

When a frantic Liliana discovered her, she was motionless and floating face down in the pool. She jumped in, grabbed the girl and rushed her to the kitchen, where she called 911 while trying to resuscitate her.

Nahomy wasn’t breathing. The natural color had drained from her tiny body.

“She looked black, deep black,” Liliana said. “I tried to open her eyes and it was blank. I don’t see her eyes. All the things I looked at her, she died, she died, she died.

Liliana was not trained in CPR, but she tried anyway. She pressed Nahomy’s chest again and again.

“I did CPR five times, but nothing happened,” said Liliana. “She didn’t do anything.”

When she received no response, she ceased her resuscitation efforts.

Needing a miracle, she did the only thing she thought could help.

“The only one who could do anything for her was God,” Liliana said. “So I just prayed. Holy spirit help me. Holy spirit help me. Because I knew my daughter was dying.”

She screamed that plea over and over as an ambulance raced to the house. Meanwhile, a terrified Sandy desperately tried to make sense of what he saw on that small screen.

Liliana grabbed her dying daughter’s tiny hand. It was then that she saw a small sign that gave her hope.

“I started to see in her fingers, at the bottom of her fingers, it was kind of pink,” Liliana said. “That’s when all of her body color started changing and she started looking like a normal, alive person.”

The mother cried as her daughter began to show signs of life.

“Then she started breathing,” she said. “But it was really really hard and really, like, forced.”

Relief washed over Liliana.

“At that point I was like, ‘Oh my God, it happened,'” she said. “‘She’s alive again.'”

Paramedics rushed in quickly. While working on Nahomy, they bombarded Liliana with questions about what had happened.

The big one: How long was she in the pool?

Liliana didn’t know. But she told them there was a surveillance camera they could check.

Nahomy was taken to a hospital, sedated and put on a ventilator while water was drained from her lungs.

Still unable to reach Liliana, Sandy spoke to a neighbor, who provided few details.

“She told me that (Liliana) brought her back and then the ambulance came,” Sandy said.

Sitting in that faraway room in Pittsburgh, Sandy didn’t know.

“I had a hard time at the hotel,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

He needed help and called someone from the team. Officials chartered a private jet so he could go to his baby daughter immediately.

Liliana was in the hospital room with Nahomy when the authorities who saw the video – which the Leóns showed to The Associated Press – came in to talk to her about what they saw.

“They looked at me with that face that something really bad had happened,” she said. “And they told me from the time she fell to the time you picked her up was 12 minutes.”

Twelve minutes.

“When I heard them say she was in the pool for so long, I broke down,” said Sandy. “I was like ‘She’s not coming back.'”

Doctors warned the family that even if Nahomy woke up, she would almost certainly have brain damage due to how long she was in the water.

They warned that she might not be able to walk, talk or do everyday things that people take for granted. The next 72 hours, they said, would be crucial in discovering the toll this had taken on Nahomy.

Sandy arrived at Fort Meyers around 8:00 PM that evening. He was not prepared for what he saw.

“She was in bed with all the tubes, and she still wasn’t breathing on her own,” he said. “It was tough. I didn’t know what to do. I went to my wife and just hugged her.

The couple spent that night in the small room with their little girl as she fought for her life.

A dizzy Sandy awoke at 6:30am the next morning and couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I saw my daughter on her knees on the bed,” he said. ‘She’s awake. I do not know what happened.”

By 10 a.m. that morning, she was breathing on her own. She immediately started talking as tubes were removed from her throat.

“She just said, ‘Papi, you’re here,'” Liliana recalls. “He said, ‘Yes, I’m here baby, with you.'”

The Leóns were encouraged, but doctors still warned that Nahomy could have physical problems. But later that day they removed the rest of the tubes and laid her on the floor.

“And she started running,” Sandy said. “The doctors couldn’t believe it.”

Nahomy spent a few days in the hospital recovering and undergoing tests to make sure she was okay. Everything came back clean and the family was allowed to go home. The medical team told the Leóns they could not explain Nahomy’s recovery. Some called it a miracle.

She is now perfectly healthy and has no lingering effects of the harrowing experience. She turns 4 later this month and is enjoying being a girly girl, loving anything pink or sparkly.

“She really likes to think she’s a princess,” Liliana said. “She really loves her father. She’s a daddy’s girl. And she loves to sing, dance. She’s a normal girl.”

The Leóns shared their story with the AP before news broke this weekend that the 2-year-old daughter of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett drowned in a pool at the family home.

Last year, several family members reminisced about what happened to Nahomy and her remarkable recovery in a group text. Someone suggested Sandy – a journeyman catcher who has now worn seven different numbers with six teams – switch to number 12 to mark the endless time she spent in the pool.

It was not available in Minnesota last year. But when he joined the Rangers this season, he finally got the number that means so much to his family.

And every time he button up that sweater and pulls the number 12 over his back, he says a little prayer of thanks that the number didn’t take his beloved Nahomy. away.

“I feel blessed and thankful every time I go out on the field knowing that she is normal and nothing happened,” he said. “She has no idea, but it’s so special to me.”



Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.