Not Afraid: Tiffany's Story
Photo: Video by nbc26.com
Thursday will mark the four-year anniversary of a tragic ice accident on Lake Winnebago. Now, the sole survivor, 11-year-old Tiffany Dombrowski, wants to follow in the footsteps of the people who helped save her.
To watch Tiffany in action, it's hard to believe that just four years ago, she was fighting to stay alive.
"We were paged out to a truck that went in the ice," recalls Connie Loewe, one of Tiffany's rescuers on Valentine's Day 2009. Now a divemaster with the Calumet County Dive Team, Loewe was working as a first responder for Stockbridge at the time.
"They were just getting Tiffany out of the water when I arrived," she said.
Tragically, the accident claimed the lives of 9-year-old Savannah Kleinhans and Savannah's father, Dan. But somehow, Tiffany managed to survive -- after being under the water for close to 30 minutes.
"We put her in a van and took her into shore," recalls Loewe. "We did CPR on her on the way in, and then they airlifted her to Theda Clark and then on to the Children's Hospital."
After recovering in the hospital, young Tiffany came to Connie, her rescuer, with an incredible request: she wanted to learn how to dive.
"I'm planning to be like Connie," said Tiffany.
"I was shocked," Loewe said. I could not believe after being under the water for 30 minutes and almost losing her life, that three years later, she would want to learn how to scuba dive."
For the past year, Connie and Tiffany have been working together, spending countless hours in the pool. Last September, Tiffany completed her open-water dives and officially received her scuba certification.
"She has no fear of the water, which totally amazes me," Loewe said.
These days, it's the water where Tiffany says she feels most at home.
"It feels like you're expressing yourself," she said.
Her story has become a source of inspiration and hope for Tina Katze, who lost her husband and daughter in the accident.
"What a Godsend, for her to have survived this accident and make the strides that she has in recovery," Katze said. "To actually not have a fear of water any longer, and to just literally jump right in and take control of it."
While Tiffany is making great progress, her road to recovery isn't over just yet.
"She does struggle with a lot of different things and learning with the brain injury. It's been hard for her, but she doesn't give up," said Loewe. "Out of every bad thing, there's always some good that comes out of it. And this has definitely been just an amazing journey for us."
In the years since the accident, the Calumet County Dive Team has formed in an effort to prevent more tragedy on the ice. As for Tiffany, her goal is to one day become a rescue diver herself.