Victim of near-drowning in fair condition

It happened in an instant.

One minute, 14-year-old Joseph Ahlert was standing in ankle-deep water of the Kansas River washing the dirt off his feet; the next he was pinned under a tree in a raging current fighting for his life.

“He told me at one point he thought he was going to die,” Joseph’s mother, Traci Wilson, said Monday evening from her son’s hospital room at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

The West Junior High School ninth-grader slipped and fell into the Kansas River on Friday. He got caught up in a tree, the force of the water pinning his body underneath it.

Wilson said her son was able to hold onto the tree to keep his head above water, until he was overcome and eventually lost consciousness. That’s when a team of 17 rescuers knew they had to act fast.

“There are no words that can describe our gratitude,” Wilson said.

Joseph was not breathing when he was pulled from the water. Wilson said she was told later that her son had no pulse for four minutes. Emergency medical crews performed CPR for seven minutes, literally bringing the boy back to life.

“He’s made remarkable progress from the prognosis we got early on,” Wilson said. “They gave him a 1 percent chance of survival.”

Joseph was moved out of the hospital’s intensive care unit Sunday and is now in fair condition.

His mom said Joseph has been up talking and walking, and is expected to be released from the hospital possibly in a couple of days.

Wilson, whose husband is a retired firefighter, said she already has written thank-you letters to her son’s rescuers.

“They have always had my utmost respect,” she said. “I’m so thankful.”

Earlier Monday, Lawrence police said that on Friday Joseph was with four other teenagers on the spillway of Bowersock Dam when the accident occurred.

The five teenagers are considered suspects of criminal trespassing, Lawrence Police Sgt. Bill Cory said, though they have not been arrested or charged. The police report lists Bowersock Mills and Power Co., 546 Mass., as the victim.

The rescue occurred in an area marked with large signs indicating danger, such as one that said: “Extremely hazardous, all access prohibited.”

Joseph’s name was not released to the media until Monday afternoon. Lawrence police told the media on Friday that if there were any new information to report over the weekend, a news release would follow. No news release was made.