BOYNTON BEACH —Elionore Dieujuste was speechless, so shocked to find her toddler floating in her backyard pool that she could hardly talk to the police dispatcher on the phone, she said.
"I couldn't even remember my address," the 36-year-old Boynton Beach mother said of the Nov. 21 incident. "I thought [my baby] was dead."
The dispatcher calmed the toddler's mother down and told her and a neighbor how to perform CPR on the 2-year-old girl until police arrived at the home in the 600 block of Southwest Fourth Avenue, Elionore Dieujuste said.
After eight days in the hospital, Vitalice Dieujuste made a full recovery.
On Tuesday, the toddler's family thanked the dispatcher and police officer who helped save her. Officer David Britto, 28, and Dispatch Supervisor Monique Lewis, 36, received a life-saving award from the police agency during a ceremony in Boynton Beach.
Lewis later gave a giant stuffed monkey to the smiling Vitalice, who attended the event with her parents, brother and sister.
"It's a good feeling to meet the family," said Lewis, who has worked as a Boynton Beach police dispatcher for 14 years. "Dispatchers usually don't get the recognition we deserve."
Elionore Dieujuste said she took her eyes off Vitalice for a minute that fateful day when she went into the kitchen to cook. After a while, she didn't hear the toddler talking, so she asked her 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son to look for Vitalice. The daughter saw her little sister facedown at the bottom of the home's swimming pool.
Vitalice had walked into the backyard through an unlocked door and gotten into the pool area through a broken fence, police said.
Elionore Dieujuste called police and told Lewis, the dispatcher, that she didn't know how to perform CPR. Lewis advised her to knock on a neighbor's door for help.
That neighbor, Tara Schuster, ran to the house and tried to revive the girl.
When Officer Britto arrived, he took over the CPR.
"I saw the little baby on the ground and started praying," said Britto, who said he had never performed CPR on a toddler before.
Soon Vitalice started spitting up water and gasping for air, police said. Rescue workers rushed her to Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach in critical condition. Her health worsened and she was placed on a ventilator.
Vitalice's parents stayed by her side until she was released eight days later, without any complications.
Elionore Dieujuste said she hopes other parents learn from what happened to her family. Her three children have enrolled in free swimming and water safety classes through the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Palm Beach County.
"You need to put your eyes on your child every minute," she said.