The mother of a toddler who fell into the River Lee has described the woman who saved him as her son’s "guardian angel", writes Kelly O’Brien of the Evening Echo.
Three-year-old Caleb Watters was walking through Cork City at midday yesterday, with his au pair, Anna, and his 18-month-old sister, Lucia, when he ran over to the water’s edge near Brian Boru Bridge.
Before Anna could grab him, Caleb had slipped and fallen 15 feet into the water below.
Frantic, the au pair started screaming for someone to take the buggy she had been pushing, so that she could jump in after the boy. Within those precious seconds, however, a passerby, Maria Foley, a mum-of-13 from Cobh, had dived into the river to rescue the child.
“She really is a true hero. She’s our guardian angel,” said Caleb’s mother, Adriana Watters, who lives on the Lower Glanmire Road.
“I’m just absolutely amazed by this act of selflessness, that she just saw a child in distress and just jumped in without thinking about herself. It’s amazing to see someone do that. It’s not everyone who would. She’s truly special.”
Adriana and her husband, Alan, were both at work on the northside of the city when the drama began to unfold.
Within minutes, gardaí had arrived at their office.
“The first thing they said was that everything was fine, everything was okay, but it’s about your son,” recalled Adriana.
“When they said that, I just started crying. They explained what happened and said he went into the river but he’s fine, he’s okay, a lady rescued him and they got them both out.”
The gardaí took Adriana and Alan down to the scene immediately, where Caleb and Maria had just been pulled out of the river.
“They were out of the river at that stage and the whole bridge was blocked off and I can’t even recall how many fire engines and ambulances and how many people were there. We went to Caleb first and then we spoke to Maria. I gave her a big hug and a kiss. I was just crying and thanked her and said I couldn’t believe what she did.”
Caleb and Maria were both taken to Cork University Hospital and treated for mild hypothermia. Caleb spent last night in hospital for observation but, amazingly, both escaped serious injury. It is estimated they were in the water for roughly five minutes, with Maria keeping Caleb’s head above the surface at all times.
“Caleb got x-rays and was looked over and he was fine. He was a bit cold, but his temperature went up quickly enough so they were quite happy with him. He had one scratch on his back and that was all,” said Adriana.
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“It could have been so much worse. I went through everything that could have gone differently. If the tide had been up he could have been swept away, if Maria hadn’t been there… I know everything is okay, but in your head you see all the things that could have happened.”
The mother-of-three said when she spoke to Caleb at the hospital, she could tell he knew he shouldn’t have run away.
“I don’t think Anna could have done anything differently. Everyone with kids knows that even if you have a grip on them, all it takes is a second,” she said.
“So I thought all the comments I saw online about Anna were terrible. The ones saying she should have done something more.
“I mean, she had a buggy as well with Lucia, my baby girl, so she was pushing her and when Caleb fell she immediately started screaming and was looking for someone to hold the buggy so she could jump in and then Maria was already in the water… it all happened very fast.”
She also criticised the safety of the railings that are currently in place by the water’s edge.
“I was speaking to my mother who’s in Germany and I was explaining where it was. The aircoach stops near there and it’s the same railing, and every time my mother was there she would say this is dangerous. She always said someone was going to fall in there. Then today when I told her what happened she said she couldn’t believe that it was Caleb who fell,” said Adriana.
“It’s amazing that nothing happened to either of them. It’s an absolute miracle.”
Since the ordeal, Adriana has been trying to think of some way to repay Maria for saving her son’s life.
“I was talking to some of my friends about Maria and I wanted to do something and I asked them if a Go Fund Me page was a good idea. They said I should do it.
“Maria has 13 children of her own so if I can get enough money together then maybe they can all get a nice holiday out of it or something. That would be great because something like this shouldn’t go unrewarded.”
You can donate to Adriana’s Go Fund Me page for Maria here.
Meanwhile, both the Lord Mayor and the Fire Service have supported Maria’s nomination for a national award for bravery.
Victor Shine, Third Officer with Cork City Fire Service, who attended the scene, said it was an “exceptional feat of heroism”.
“The river was low so Maria risked a five-metre jump, which is like jumping out of a two-storey window or higher, into low water with all the potential hazards that that brings. Cold fresh water constantly flows from the river there, but Maria grabbed and held the child who was very distressed, calmed him and kept him above the water,” said Mr Shine.
Lord Mayor of Cork, councillor Chris O’Leary, said that he would like to invite Maria to City Hall to thank her both personally, and on behalf of the city.
“Her actions are very commendable. It takes a certain type of person who will risk their own life to save another,” he said.
* This article first appeared in today’s Evening Echo.