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Fargo man rescues girl in pond

Steve Huotari failed the required CPR course at Moorhead High School twice before passing it on the third try.

"So, I got a lot of training," he said.

That training proved potentially lifesaving Wednesday, when the 20-year-old Fargo man and his mother kept a young girl who nearly drowned in a Richland County pond alive until police and paramedics arrived.

Jade Justis Curtis-Dean. 5, Gwinner, N.D., remained in critical condition Thursday in the pediatric intensive care unit at Fargo MeritCare Children's Hospital, a facility spokesman said.

A CaringBridge website created for Jade stated she "is currently on a ventilator and has severe pneumonia. She is surrounded by people right now praying for her recovery."

According to Huotari and the Richland County Sheriff's Office:

Huotari and his family were driving back to Fargo from Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton, N.D., when they decided to stop at Mooreton Pond, a small man-made lake along Interstate 29 about 37 miles south of Fargo.

The girl was swimming there with her great aunt, whose dog started running toward Huotari's family when they arrived.

The woman turned around to yell at the dog, looking away from the girl for what Huotari said was less than 30 seconds.

When she looked back, the girl was gone.

Huotari and others at the pond began a frantic search for the girl. He paced back-and-forth in the pond, sweeping his feet across the rock-and-silt bottom while working his way toward shallower water. His step-grandmother, Cynthia Larck, 53, Dilworth, Minn., also was there and helped search for the girl in the water, he said.

About 10 minutes had passed when Huotari felt the girl's body touch his leg in about 3 feet of water, 10 to 15 feet from shore. He reached down and pulled her up, her lips blue and eyes lifeless, and carried her back to shore.

After checking the girl's airway and removing a piece of gum from her mouth, Huotari and his mother, Cleo Huotari of Fargo, who also knows CPR, worked for about eight minutes to resuscitate the girl until law enforcement and paramedics arrived to take over.

Sheriff's Deputy Dan Wise, who performed CPR with North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Mitch Rumple, said it was at least another five minutes before the girl regained a pulse and was airlifted to MeritCare.

"It felt like forever," Wise said.

Because of the civilians' quick actions, the girl went to the hospital with some vital signs restored, Sheriff Larry Leshovsky stated in a news release.

Huotari said his mother spent the rest of Wednesday at the hospital with the girl's family while he watched their dog.

"I think I'll probably be connected to them forever, whether I know them or not," he said.

Huotari said he's glad he completed the CPR training, which he never thought he'd have to use.

"It was all basically instinct," he said.

How to help

Donations are being accepted in tribute to Jade Curtis-Dean at