Knifongs give thanks for their son

Ken, Colby and Kennison Knifong have more reason than most to give thanks on Thanksgiving and every other day of the year. Submitted photo by The Studio

Ken and Colby Knifong don't have to wait for Thanksgiving Day to think about what they are most grateful for: the life of their son, Kennison, who will celebrate his third birthday in January.

"I'm thankful for every breath he takes," Colby Knifong said. "I'm thankful for this entire community. If it wasn't for them, he wouldn't be here." Ken Knifong agreed and added, "I'm thankful to have my family under one roof."

Most of Wallowa County is familiar with Kennison Knifong's story.

In June of 2003 he fell into the small creek by his rural Enterprise house, and was swept downstream by the spring runoff. He was missing for 20 minutes before the boy's lifeless body was spotted by Undersheriff Steve Rogers, who started CPR and was joined by others, including Wes Kilgore, Linda Koloski and Dr. Lowell Euhus.

The effort to revive the toddler continued at Wallowa Memorial Hospital, and almost two hours from the time he was pulled from the creek his heartbeat was finally revived.

The boy was flown to Boise, Idaho, where a drowning expert in the pediatric intensive care unit at St. Luke's hospital prepared his parents for the worst: it was all but certain that their young son had suffered serious brain damage.

Instead, within a short time, Kennison started showing signs of revival. He woke up hungry and wanting his mother.

Except for some scars where hot saline packs burned his arm during the effort to warm his cold body, he has shown no adverse effects from his ordeal. In fact he is such a live wire that his parents are kept hopping just to keep up with him.

Ken Knifong was known as a risk-taker in his younger years - he said he had 29 surgeries by the time he was 25 years old - and more than one member of his family has mentioned something about "pay back time" to him.

Many, including his parents, consider Kennison Knifong's survival a miracle. His story was filmed in January and televised on the PAX cable television program "It's a Miracle."

The story, which has been publicized extensively in the area, appeared in the national Woman's Week magazine in October. It was picked up from there by the syndicated Montel Williams talk show, and the Knifongs have been asked to appear on that program. They will probably go to New York to tell their story before a national television audience in January.

While sometimes they wish "things would get back to normal," the Knifongs said they don't mind talking about what started out as a parent's worst nightmare. "We believe in miracles," Colby Knifong said. "If we can give one family the hope we had, it's worth it."

"There's no doubt that Kennison wouldn't be alive right now if we lived in another community and he'd gone to another hospital," Colby said. The medical staff in Boise admitted that most hospitals would have stopped attempts to revive him in about a half hour's time. "People here just wouldn't quit," she said. "And everyone prayed for us."

There's not a day that passes that the Knifongs don't relive the details of the ordeal in their mind.

Colby can't help but asking some of the same questions over and over:

What if I hadn't turned my back that one instant? What if I hadn't called 911 as soon as I did? What if I hadn't met Steve Rogers on the road not far from where he found Kennison? What if he hadn't spotted Kennison when he did? What if Dr. Euhus hadn't been at the hospital and come out to help? What if the drowning expert hadn't been on duty at St. Luke's to give the local hospital staff instructions about what to do? What if nurse Gail Johnson hadn't been at the hospital? What if they had given up before they did? What if Air Life hadn't flown from La Grande to Enterprise to be on standby, just in case the lifeless toddler was revived?

"People might say they are coincidences, but how many coincidences does it take to make a miracle. Forty or 50?" she asked, believing strongly that Kennison and his rescuers were in God's hands that day.

The Knifongs remembered the year 2003 very well. Not only was it the year Kennison almost drowned, but it was the year Colby lost her teaching job at Enterprise Elementary School and moved back to her home town of Weston for a teaching job in Milton-Freewater. Ken, who remained in Wallowa County working as an electrician, and Colby Knifong, with Kennison, drove back and forth to see each other but it wasn't easy.

"I think it caused us to grow, though," Ken Knifong said, repeating how thankful he was that his family is under one roof again. The couple feels that Kennison's accident has made their marriage much stronger. "It's changed our lives," Colby said.

This year Colby Knifong is substitute teaching in the county and she and Kennison are living at their home near Enterprise again.

The fence around the creek has been reinforced since the accident, but his parents know there's no fence that can hold Kennison for long. He now has memories of the water that almost took his life.

The Knifongs admit they have to fight against being overprotective parents. "Are we going to keep him off bulls and motorcycles? Yes," Ken admits. His wife adds: "He's a happy kid and he loves life. I want my son to live every day of his life to the fullest."

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