Angelo Mondragon was out at Windsor Lake in Colorado with family and friends when the fun weekend outing quickly turned into a gripping, life-or-death situation.
“It felt like something you normally wouldn’t feel in the water,” he told USA Today. It was a little bump on his leg, and, curious, he kicked at the water to bring it up to see what it was.
“And then I saw the bottom of a baby’s foot float up,” Mondragon said.
Mondragon, a father of three young children himself, began screaming immediately: “Whose child is this?!”
He pulled the baby up from under the water and revealed a 3-year-old girl, who was already turning blue.
“She wasn’t breathing,” he recalled. “I grabbed her and carried her limp body to the shore.”
In that moment, he reacted as if she was one of his own. “I pulled her out like I would have any of my babies,” he said.
“In that moment, she became my baby.”
“We have children close in age—it really, really does touch close to home for me,” Mondragon said. And, like he would for any of his family, he did everything in his power to bring her back.
He rushed her to shore and tilted her head back because he saw that her airways were blocked. Off-duty nurses were thankfully nearby, and together they were able to eventually get the toddler to breathe. Her mother, Emma, worried out of her mind, couldn’t thank Mondragon enough.
When the girl, Sitlali Hernandez, finally took in that first breath, Mondragon said “I felt like I had exhaled too.”
Paramedics then arrived and took the girl to the Medical Center of the Rockies, and then moved her to the Children’s Hospital in Aurora, where she made a full recovery.
“If I was not in that right spot at the right time, it could have been a search and rescue mission,” Mondragon said.
He and his family made a trip to visit the little girl the next day, at the children’s hospital, where Emma came out to greet them in tears.
“There are no words, there are no words,” she said, pulling him into an emotional hug. “You saved her. You saved my baby.”
“I love her and she’s a part of my family now,” Mondragon said.
The incident prompted the Mondragons to start collecting life vests for families who cannot afford them, according to NY Daily News. “The baby was not wearing a life vest,” Mondragon told local news outlets, adding that if she had, the situation would have been entirely different.
Though it was not a large-scale fundraising project, Mondragon created a positive effect immediately.
Not long after visiting Sitlali, Mondragon and his wife procured their first couple of life vests, and made their way up to the Poudre Canyon to distribute them at the river.
Immediately, he noticed two little girls playing in the water without life vests—with highly alert parents close by.
“It felt amazing to share our story with them and stress the importance of water safety,” he said. “They were filled with happiness when I gave them their new gift and the father immediately strapped the girls into the vests and they didn’t remove them the rest of the afternoon.”
“We are truly making a difference.”