Macilla Manuel knew exactly what to do when her 16-month-old grandson was found face down in the stream behind the family's home at Cooper's Beach on Sunday.

She had recently completed a first aid course at NorthTec, and wasted no time in beginning CPR. Tawhirimatea Ratahi appeared to be responding several times, but it was some five minutes before he began, and continued, breathing again, and Macilla knew he wouldn't die.

She didn't do it alone though. She had already lost a child of her own, to cot death, at the age of 3 months, and was terrified that she would lose another.

"I prayed to the Lord, 'Please don't do this to me again,'" she said yesterday.

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And Tawhirimatea's mother, Justise Murphy, knew also that she was drawing strength from family members who had passed.

Everyone else's faces suggested that they had given up hope, she said, "but my mum alone had hope (she knew she had our aunty watching over her), faith (she knew our baby brother was watching over her), and love (she had her dad with her). She knew her tupuna were with her, and she was at peace.

"God was on our side. We say big thanks to our Mama Bear Macilla. I am so proud of her."

The family had been preparing to leave for the beach, to celebrate Father's Day, when Justise noticed her younger child was not in the car. Macilla sent her son to look for him, and it was he who found the little boy, face down in the creek. By that stage he was blue and wasn't breathing. Her son lifted the child out of the water and she began CPR.

The child appeared to be about to start breathing several times before he did so properly, just as the police arrived.

He, his mother and a paramedic were driven to Kaitaia Hospital by a police officer, and the child was later flown to Whang─ürei Hospital by rescue helicopter for observation and a raft of tests.

He very quickly returned to his usual busy, inquisitive self, Justise said, but he was still in hospital yesterday, with his father, for treatment of a cut to one hand that had become infected.

He appeared to have suffered no ill effects from his near-drowning, and was expected to make a full recovery.

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Macilla, meanwhile, was still emotional yesterday, aware of how close she had come to losing her grandson, although she wasn't beyond commenting that the near-tragedy had "put an end to Father's Day".

Now she and Justise were encouraging others, starting with their family members, to undergo first aid training.

"I would like all my kids to be able to do it," she said.

"You don't know when you are going to need it."

The family, who had only recently moved into the house after leaving Auckland, had also contacted the Far North District Council over the obvious need to fence the stream, although they weren't sure whether responsibility lay with the council or their landlord.