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Holiday miracle turns 20

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Twenty years ago today, Alvaro Garza Jr. broke through the ice on the Red River and was under water for 45 minutes.

After the 11-year-old was hauled from the river and resuscitated, his astonishing survival made him a media darling.

For a time, the world couldn't get enough of the Christmas miracle.

But the world turned and so did its attention.

Garza, who went on to marry and have kids, never forgot that day.

"I still remember it every year," said Garza, who spared a moment Monday to talk by phone from Texas, where the 31-year-old is a driller on an oil rig.

"I'm the one that makes the holes. I make $23 an hour, pretty good money," said Garza, the father of four children, including a 10-year-old named Alvaro Garza III.

The younger Garza shares more than a name with his father.

About six years ago, the boy nearly drowned while on a family trip to a state park in Texas.

"They got him out and gave him CPR," said the elder Garza, remembering the Easter Sunday his son was pulled from a river, much as he was two decades ago.

Garza said he tells his children to respect the water and to not take chances like the one he took after three companions dared him to venture on the ice to claim a dead squirrel for its tail.

Rescuers arrived within a few minutes of Garza going into the water, but it took longer for police and firefighters to locate his body deep under the icy surface.

Steve Kennedy was a rookie officer with the Moorhead Police Department when he was given the duty of launching a rescue boat.

"I'm pushing the thing out on the ice and all of a sudden the ice broke underneath me. It was either hop in the boat or fall in the river," recalled Kennedy, who is now an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Kennedy said he maneuvered the boat while firefighters combed the water with long poles.

One firefighter later told Kennedy what it was like when he encountered something that didn't feel like a submerged log or car tire.

"He kept losing it and eventually he got it to stick and was slowly able to bring the little bugger up to the surface," Kennedy recalled.

"Everybody grabbed him (Garza) and then it was just a mad rush for shore and the ambulance and away he went," Kennedy said.

"Most of the time you don't have happy endings with situations like that," he said. "From a rookie cop's point of view, that was kind of cool that it had a happy ending."

Roberta Young, a registered nurse at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo, watched the recovery unfold.

"It was just so amazing how things clicked together, how all the different areas worked together to get ready for a kid who had been under water for that long of a time," Young said.

The boy, whose core body temperature had dropped

to 77 degrees, was hooked

to a heart-lung machine, the

kind of machine used for open-heart surgery.

"They were able to take his blood and warm it up and put it right back in his body," Young said.

The extreme cold of the water actually helped the boy's chances because it triggered an oxygen-conserving response that shut down all but the body's most critical functions, she said.

"When you're caring for children, their resiliency is sometimes really quite astounding. The team wanted to give him every chance," she said.

Garza's wife, Erica, believes her husband suffers lingering effects from the long-ago ordeal.

"There are times in the winter when he says his knees ache," she said.

But Garza said he has little to complain about.

"We're doing good, thanks to God," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555 Holiday miracle turns 20 Dave Olson 20071204

Dave Olson
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