Parenting

My Toddler Drowned on Our Family Vacation–Here’s What I Want You to Know

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 not know 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. 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 that 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.

Photo: Nicole Hughes

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 the blame off of my shoulders. But, I sure wish I had known these statistics before June 10.

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.

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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. Levi’s message has already spread, but now, it’s time to take the next step, and it is a big one.

American Academy of Pediatrics, I am asking for your help. We need you. I say this as someone who is married to a physician and who respects my own pediatrician very much. But, thousands of people have reached out to me over the last month sharing the same comment each time: “I had no idea. Why didn’t I know any of this about drowning?”

I am well aware how much a pediatrician has to cover during a well-child visit: build a relationship, answer questions, prepare for milestones, look into the ears of a squirming child. Pediatricians have thousands of topics they must be knowledgeable of and share with parents. Therefore, American Academy of Pediatrics, you play a major role in setting priorities and equipping your pediatricians with the resources they need in order to inform parents and help eliminate this preventable tragedy. Parents of young children, especially in the age range of 1-4, should be given a handout that clearly explains the statistics on drowning. On the questionnaire, when I fill out it if my child can hold a crayon, hop on one foot, or sleep through the night, there needs to be a section on water safety.  American Academy of Pediatrics, you have the platform and power to reach millions. Please, please join this cause. 

The AAP has a website for parents (www.healthychildren.org); on July 11, 2018, in the middle of summer, do you know how many times “drowning” was displayed on the homepage? Zero. When I searched “drowning,” I found a list of 17 total items, with articles from 2017 and 2014 being at the top. These articles include information that is so dull that nobody will read it (assuming anyone searches).  They include information on how to tell if your child is drowning, such as: “eyes closed / not using legs/ appearing to be climbing an invisible ladder.” Not only is this a waste of words (is a parent seriously going to go through this mental checklist before saving a child?), but it just reinforces to people the incorrect assumption that drowning means splashing and yelling.

Nicole Hughes
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Nicole Hughes is the mom of Lily (9), Reese (6), and Levi (forever age 3). Her life was changed when her son drowned in seconds during a non-swim time in June 2018. She will never stop missing her son and is determined to break the stigma around drowning. Follow her journey on levislegacy.com or connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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