WASILLA — Cassie Nix only briefly met Anthony Keller the morning of Oct. 2 — in fact, she doesn’t remember the meeting clearly — but that’s all it would take for Keller to become Nix’s hero.
That’s the day Keller, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Wasilla, saved the life of her 5-year-old daughter, Taylia Hardy.
“I couldn’t breathe, I was hyperventilating,” Nix said about what she remembered after her daughter was pulled, blue and unresponsive, from a hotel hot tub. “I can’t tell you, it’s the worst thing ever, ever. I kept thinking, ‘This is how it feels to lose a baby.’ I started praying. I couldn’t even cry, and I remember thinking how fast this was going by.”
It was coincidence that brought Keller and Nix to the Quality Inn hotel in Kenai that day. Keller was visiting a friend and Nix, also from Wasilla, was on the road attending a football game for her 9-year-old son. Before checking out, little Taylia went to the pool with a family friend and her son for a last swim.
“My friend took her son and my daughter swimming, and just as I was standing up (from breakfast) people started yelling, ‘There’s a baby drowning!’” Nix said. “I have a handicap, so I can’t move very well, but I was trying to get there fast. By the time I got there, my friend had pulled her out of the hot tub.”
Apparently, Taylia jumped into the middle of the 5-foot-deep hot tub to retrieve a ball and didn’t have a life vest on, Nix said. Her friend noticed the girl at the bottom of the hot tub and pulled her out.
Keller was in the lobby at the time and heard the commotion and went into the pool area to see what was happening. At first, he said he was trying to calm Nix and her friend down. Then he heard the question that changed his and Taylia’s lives.
“Does anyone know CPR?”
Turns out, Keller does. In fact, he was certified in child CPR this summer during a Knik Tribal Council class.
“I was at the hotel and some guy came running out to the office and said there’s a drowning,” Keller recalled. “I ran back to the pool and I guess she was drowning in the hot tub. Some lady pulled her out and pretty much everybody was just freaking out. I was the only one there who knew CPR. After I gave her 30 chest compressions, then I gave her some breaths, and she started breathing again.”
Hearing Taylia cry after Keller’s actions was “the most beautiful sound ever,” Nix said.
In the month since the accident, Nix said she thinks daily about Keller’s actions and how close her daughter came to death.
“Every day I look at her, and the shock’s worn off a little bit, but not a lot,” she said. “Several times a day I look at her and go, ‘Wow.’ Like, when she’s annoying and I think, ‘I’m so glad she’s annoying me right now.’”
But Keller’s actions have drawn notice from more than this grateful mother.
On Nov. 14, Wasilla Mayor Verne Rupright presented the teen with a proclamation from the city honoring him for his lifesaving efforts.
In the proclamation, the mayor and city “acknowledge and thank Anthony Keller for his heroic actions in stepping forward and taking charge in a life-threatening emergency that saved the life of a young girl. … Anthony is a fine example for other youth in our community.”
In addition to Nix and her daughter, Kenai Fire Chief Michael Tilley was on hand for the proclamation presentation. The chief said he’s impressed with Keller’s actions and deserves recognition as a hero.
“From what was described to me, the child was unconscious and blue in nature, which obviously makes you believe she was not breathing,” Tilley said. “Having someone like Anthony step up ultimately saved the girl’s life.”
For someone in the emergency services field, not every call ends so happily, he said.
“Sometimes in the fire department and police department, we have to see some pretty disturbing things and sometimes the outcomes of our efforts aren’t always on the positive side,” Tilley said. “It was very encouraging to see someone this young to have the maturity and the courage to step up. … He saved a life that day.”
As for Keller, he said he learned CPR for a reason; his mother has trouble breathing and is asthmatic. So, he took CPR classes at the Knik Tribal Council —in fact, he failed the first time, so took it again this summer. But he didn’t expect to put his knowledge to work so soon.
“Someday I knew it would come in handy, but I was thinking it would happen to my mom,” he said. “But no, I didn’t think it would come so quickly.”
When he heard the girl cry after she started breathing again, “I felt really relieved,” Keller said. “I felt like I did an amazing job and was happy I was there. That just went through my mind the rest of the day; that she didn’t die. It really didn’t hit me until about and hour or two after, though. When it was happening, I was calm. Then, after I started thinking about how she could’ve died, I was like, ‘whoa.’”
Some people are labeled heroes whether they earn those titles or not, Nix said. In Keller’s case, she said he will always be her hero.
“Saying thank you seems so stupid, there’s nothing I can say,” she said. “You can’t put it into words. Of course, of course he’s my hero. He saved my baby’s life.”