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Katherine Grandstrand, Forum News Service, Published July 27 2013

10-year-old ND girl saves baby boy from drowning

DICKINSON, N.D. - Ten-year-old Mackenzie Wilkinson managed to save a little boy from drowning on Tuesday, despite never having taken a formal swimming lesson in her life.

She was swimming for the first time this season at Patterson Lake near Dickinson when she noticed a small child, around age 2, face down in the water wearing a lifejacket.

She snapped to action, grabbing her pool noodle and urging the young one to grab on.

Her grandparents, Bob and Jean Henderson, witnessed the whole thing.

“Next thing I know, Mackenzie’s coming up with this kid and this woman grabs this baby — he’s maybe 2 or so — and she came over to me and she said, ‘That little girl saved my baby,’” Bob said.

Her mom, Cherie Wilkinson, credits Mackenzie tagging along to a CPR class last summer with her quick response.

“She’s too young to have the certification, but she went through the certification class,” Cherie said. “She was so excited about it. She went home and made her dad lie on the floor and act like he was dying, it was really cute.”

Mackenzie’s life-saving feat caught the attention of TV news, which quickly spread to friends and family online.

Mackenzie loves swimming, but the municipal pool in her hometown of Belfield is rarely open.

“This year they did fill the pool, it was full and the water was clear and then all of a sudden they didn’t open it,” Cherie said. “Then there’s nothing here for the kids to do during the summertime.”

The life-saving event might lead to a career, or at least a summer job, for Mackenzie, who said she would like to be a lifeguard at the Belfield pool.

“So they could have it open more,” Mackenzie said.

The Hendersons, who were visiting from Redding, Calif., took Mackenzie and her brothers camping with them as part of their three-week vacation to see their daughter and her family for the first time in five years.

The Hendersons couldn’t believe the town pool was closed; its opening has been sporadic at best in the seven years that Cherie has lived in Belfield.

“It’s a nice pool and the community really enjoys it when they have the pool open,” Cherie said. “They need to figure it out. … That pool plays a major part in children’s lives during the summer.”

The number listed for the Belfield Pool was disconnected Friday. A message was left with a member of the Belfield Park Board, Missy Schmidt, but was not returned.

The cities nearest Belfield with a pool are Dickinson, 22 miles away, and Medora, 18 miles away.

Despite a lack of formal education, Mackenzie was happy to be back in the water on Thursday.

She likes “the temperature, the way you get your hair wet, the way you feel alive,” when swimming.