Kindel Burkett doesn’t remember the week before Thanksgiving.
He doesn’t remember spending several minutes at the bottom of Tyler Junior College’s pool. He doesn’t remember the ambulance, the EMTs or the medical procedures used to save his life. He doesn’t remember more than a week in the hospital surrounded by family and friends.
He does remember Wednesday.
“I blinked and my little brother was sitting in front of me in the Intensive Care Unit,” said Burkett.
On Tuesday, Nov. 13, during an open swim time at the Ornelas Health & Physical Education Center pool, lifeguards pulled an unresponsive Burkett out of the water and attempted to resuscitate him before he was transported to East Texas Medical Center. Intubated and unconscious, he remained listed in critical condition in the ICU until Wednesday, Nov. 23. Burkett was released from the hospital the day after Thanksgiving.
“We had to restrict visitors to just the immediate family,” said Kelly Hobbs, Burkett’s aunt. “He had probably no less than two dozen visitors a day.”
“[I am] thankful I got to see my little brother again and glad I got to wake up,” said Burkett.
Burkett began his freshman year this fall taking 18 hours of classes as a petroleum engineering major in addition to weekly “poolee” functions – mini workout sessions for members of the Marines’ Delayed Entry Program at the Tyler recruiting office.
In order to reach his personal fitness goals, Burkett also crafted a daily swim workout consisting of swimming 1500 meters above surface, 600 meters below surface and treading water for 30 minutes, all while fully clothed and wearing boots.
“It’s fun. I wanted to get better even though I’m not at boot camp yet. I just decided I wanted to be the best one at boot camp the first day,” said Burkett.
“He’s got a lot of drive,” said Staff Sgt. Stephen May of the Marine Recruiting office. “He’s got a big heart, and this is what he really wants to do … I wish we had about 20 more just like him.”
The exact events and cause of the incident are still under investigation.
Randy Melton, the director of Campus Safety is leading TJC’s official investigation of the incident. Fred Peters, TJC’s director of Marketing and Public Information said the college is not releasing information about the investigation at this time.
“[OPHE center] lifeguards are American Red Cross Certified or Ellis Associates Certified. Lifeguards work out on a weekly basis and have two-hour training sessions each month,” said Sondra Ramsour, the OPHE center staff technician in charge of aquatics.
Though a sign at the OHPE center pool says, “No cotton allowed in the pool,” Burkett said staff approved his swim wardrobe of camouflage pants and jacket.
“He’s a fantastic boy … Excuse me, ‘young man’,” said Hobbs while Burkett hovered in the background. “He never meets a stranger. He takes time out for the smallest and makes them feel the biggest.”
“His inner will to achieve is very strong. His mom pretty much instilled that into him,” said Hobbs, whose sister, Burkett’s mother, died two years ago after a battle with leukemia.
“It’s been hard for him to know where home is because home was always with his mom,” said Hobbs.
Though Burkett and his family won’t know his official prognosis until a follow-up exam next week, doctors are optimistic about his recovery because of the excellent physical condition Burkett was in before the accident.
“[The doctors] told us he’d be in better shape after he recovers from the accident than most normal people would be without the accident,” said Hobbs.
Though still weak from the ordeal and hoarse from being intubated for over a week, Burkett wants to dive right back into his Marine training.
His original Jan. 14 deployment to boot camp in San Diego has been postponed, but he plans on returning to the recruiting office’s events in early December and hopes to get back to the physical shape he was in before the accident.
“I’m not scared of the pool. I’m not scared of getting hurt. I’m gonna get back in the pool,” said Burkett.