LAKE POWELL, San Juan County, Utah, Aug. 31, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — The Colorado mom who died in Lake Powell last week while saving the life of her toddler son did not pass from drowning.
Chelsey Russell, 35, died from a heart condition she had known of since childhood, and worked to overcome. Family members told the Denver Post that Russell died from a rare cardiac arrhythmia, and that she had suffered from heart problems in childhood.
Russell, of Lakewood, Colo., was on a houseboat in the Hall’s Cross area of the lake with her son, 2, and daughter, 5, celebrating a new chapter in her life, her family told the newspaper. Her marriage had ended in divorce, and she had purchased a new “dream home” and was excited about her future, her family said.
Russell and her children were boating with her mother, Trish Hood, and her brother, Cayman Hood, the day of the accident. Russell’s 2-year-old son, who was not wearing a life jacket, fell overboard.
Without hesitation, Russell dove in to save her son, her family said. She reached him and held his head out of the water. She also had not been wearing a life jacket.
But the boat, which had been in motion, could not immediately stop. So Russell’s brother raced to get into a small motorboat they had been towing. The knots were tight, and Cayman Hood ended up using a knife to cut the boat free.
Family members told the Denver Post that by the time her brother reached her, Russell and her son had been in the water about 5 minutes. She was unconscious, with her toddler still resting on her chest.
San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge told Gephardt Daily the brother grabbed the child, who began to cry, but by the time the brother got Russell into the boat, she was unconscious.
“She was still, for whatever reason, able to keep the baby on her chest, whether conscious or unconscious,” Eldredge said.
Hood began CPR on his sister, but she could not be revived, and later was declared dead. Her son was taken by medical helicopter to an Arizona hospital, and was treated and released.
Despite her longtime heart problems, Russell had built her strength and become a disciplined athlete. She competed in the Boston Marathon twice, and also completed a 100-mile marathon.
She took the bar exam within days of her daughter’s birth, and worked as an associate attorney at a law firm, Welborn, Sullivan, Meck & Tooley, which has bases in Denver, Casper, Wyo., and Salt Lake City.
The firm posted a statement in memory of Russell on its website last Thursday:
“Chelsey was an amazing mother, an exceptional legal talent, an extraordinary athlete, a loyal and generous friend, and left us all better for knowing her. She is sorely missed.”