Here's What I Want You to Know
August 2018 Issue
By Nicole Hughes
We were never supposed to leave our beach vacation early to plan a funeral for our 3-year-old son. And, yet, within the course of one week, we had driven to the beach, returned without him, and held his funeral.
Do you know drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause of death in ages 1-14? Do you know that 69 percent of children who drown are not expected to be swimming, yet they are found in water? Do you know that a child can drown in less than one minute?
Unfortunately, I know these facts all too well; on June 10, 2018, my 3-year-old son, Levi, drowned while on vacation in Fort Morgan, Alabama.
There is a misconception that drowning only happens when you are swimming. But, drowning also happens when you are 200 feet away from a pool, upstairs, eating Cheetos, wearing your neon yellow crab-hunting shirt, when you leave your mom’s side, even though you are usually Velcro-ed to her. Drowning isn’t splashing and yelling.
It is silent, and it takes SECONDS.
I have always taken water safety seriously. In each of the pictures I have of my son’s final day, he is wearing a life jacket. Flying a kite with his dad? Life jacket. Eating M&M’s in a beach chair? Life jacket.
How could I have known that every parent’s worst nightmare would be my reality? It happened so quickly. I don’t know how Levi got away from us as we were cleaning up from dinner, or what lured him to go outside alone. I was the one who found him, face down, in the deep end. Just moments before this horrific discovery, I split a brownie with him. I still had the other half of the brownie in my mouth when I jumped into the pool to grab my son. Mere moments, seconds.
We had six physicians on our trip, including my husband. If Levi could have been saved by desperation, skill, and love, he would still be here. Yet, how did I not fully realize just how quickly a child can drown? They initiated CPR immediately, even intubated him before the ambulance arrived. But, Levi could not be saved, even with this immediate response.
In the days after we lost Levi, when we were forced to stumble forward without our baby boy, I started researching. I am (was?) on my third journey of parenting a child in the 1-4 age group. Why did I notknow that drowning is the leading cause of death? OF COURSE, I knew drowning was a potential danger.
We utilized life jackets, swim lessons, supervision while swimming. But, why did I not know about the dangers of drowning during NON-SWIMMING times? How did I not know it took less than one minute?
Why is my mom-brain filled with internal debates about screen time, organic fruit, and sunscreen free of oxybenzone? I still cut my 9-year-old’s grapes from fear of choking. I buy DHA milk. I worry that the hours of YouTube my kids watch will prevent them from being functioning adults one day. These are the topics that are pushed in my direction, the worries I have grasped onto as I navigate parenting. Well, the unfortunate irony here is that I had taken the iPhone away from my son not too long before he slipped away from us. I sure wish I had cared a little less about screen time that night.
The more I researched, the angrier I became. Oh, and I had to search. Why are discussions about drowning almost an afterthought? Background noise?
This is a LEADING cause of death, and it is 100 percent PREVENTABLE.
Yes, there are news stories, but we have become numb to these “don’t forget to watch your kids while swimming” factual articles that are regurgitated each year and the faded “no lifeguard on duty” signs stuck on a wall by a pool.
The harsh reality is that Levi’s death rests on me. These are the hardest words I will ever have to admit, but the truth is that I failed my son, failed to keep him safe. Yes, this accident happened in moments.
But, the fact that I have to live with for the rest of my life is that losing Levi was preventable.
I am not trying to push blame off of my shoulders. But, I sure wish I had known these statistics before June 10.
For the last month, I have fueled my grief and anger into action. Based on the research on drowning, I have created a non-profit called Levi’s Legacy. My mission is to eradicate drowning completely. You can read more about my mission (and about designated supervision) at www.levislegacy.com.
I used to be the parent who would read a story like this one and immediately start scanning, looking for a loophole, desperate for the detail that would exempt me from this particular nightmare ever being mine. But, as it turns out, tragedy does not play fair. My son is gone. And, yet, we are choosing to live a purposeful life in the midst of this ultimate despair. People are hearing Levi’s message, questioning why they didn’t know the truth about drowning, and taking action. We have a chance to change the future, to save sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
So, here I am, a grieving mother facing a future I would never have imagined. Lying in bed and sobbing will not bring him back (oh, but if it would). I don’t want this role of water-safety advocate. I want 30 seconds back on June 10. But, I am determined to share these facts I so desperately wish I had known:
Drowning is a leading cause of death, and it is 100% preventable. We can do better. We can fix this for our children.