Near-death experience leads Fond du Lac girl down diver's pathBecoming a certified scuba diver is no easy feat. It requires hours of training, lots of practice and the ability to mentally overcome the fear associated with the sport.
By: Samantha Strong, The Reporter, Fond du Lac, Superior Telegram
FOND DU LAC, Wis. (AP) — Becoming a certified scuba diver is no easy feat.
It requires hours of training, lots of practice and the ability to mentally overcome the fear associated with the sport.
An 11-year-old Valders girl has overcome these issues and more. Tiffany Dombrowski recently received her scuba diving certificate three years after a tragic accident trapped her in the icy waters of Lake Winnebago.
Tiffany, then 7, was in a truck on a frozen Lake Winnebago off the east shore in February 2009 with Daniel Kleinhans and his daughter, Savannah, when the truck broke through the ice. Daniel and Savannah were killed. Tiffany was trapped under water for 30 minutes.
When divers pulled Tiffany from the water, she was unresponsive, but emergency workers were able to revive her.
She spent about five weeks in the hospital in an induced coma. Other injuries included a collapsed lung, said her mother, Jennifer Dombrowski.
The accident never deterred Tiffany from the water.
Her determination and drive led her to complete an open water dive in September.
"At the time of the accident, she had already been in swimming lessons for three or four years," her mother told The Reporter of Fond du Lac. "She has always loved the water. Even after the accident."
Jennifer Dombrowski was on swim team in high school, one of the reasons she made sure all five of her children knew how to swim.
Another woman, Connie Loewe, also influenced Tiffany's desire to return to the water.
Loewe, dive master on the Calumet County Dive Team, was one of the first responders who helped rescue Tiffany that cold day. She has remained close to the Dombrowskis ever since.
Loewe helped her daughter and Tiffany enroll in classes at Green Bay Scuba after Tiffany expressed interest in learning how to dive during a Christmas visit.
"She loves the water," Loewe said. "She just kept plugging away during her lessons. I just kept telling myself that we'll do whatever we have to to get her through this, and the people at Green Bay Scuba let her practice until she felt comfortable."
After eight months of classroom instruction and pool hours, after securing an OK from her doctor and completing activities in her diving instruction book, Tiffany was able to dive on her own.
"It was a little hard at first," Tiffany said. "Mostly learning the different steps. But I like swimming and doing the laps."
Although Tiffany remembers little of the accident that February day, she knows it had a big impact on her.
The length of time under water without oxygen has left her with a brain injury. She has physically recovered, but intellectually, Jennifer Dombrowski said, her daughter is learning at a second-grade level.
Jennifer Dombrowski said the help and support the family receives from Loewe has been very helpful and "is just the beginning of something great."
"Our faith in God brought (my husband and I) together," Jennifer Dombrowski said. "It's the foundation of our relationship and our family."
Tiffany said she has no plans of slowing down.
She and Loewe have made plans to scuba dive when the weather turns warm next summer and may even do some diving in pools during the winter months.
"She's always loved the water and I really, truly believe that's why she survived," Loewe said.
Jennifer Dombrowski attributes her daughter's success and ambition not only to faith, but to the support of friends like Loewe and family members.
"She told me when she gets older she might want to be on some sort of rescue team because of what happened to her," Loewe said. "Until then, hopefully someday I'll be able to take her diving somewhere really beautiful."