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“He Was Wearing a Life Jacket”: Mom Posts Warning After Toddler Drowns in ‘Mere Seconds’

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 that drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause 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, AL.

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 own 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 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.

Nicole Hughes
Nicole Hughes
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.

At 15, She Underwent a Double Mastectomy to Transition to a Boy—Now, Chloe Cole is Sharing Her Journey of Detransition

Explore the journey of Chloe Cole, from her early transition as a transgender minor to her impactful detransition and activism against gender-affirming care for minors. Learn from her personal experiences, the broader cultural debates, and the reactions her stance has provoked.

Man or Bear? The Viral Question Shaking Social Media

Lear about the intense social media debate sparked by the viral question: Would you rather be alone in the woods with a man or bear? This discussion sheds light on women's safety perceptions, societal attitudes towards violence, and the broader concern women have towards men.

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"The image of a beat-up kitchen chair flashed through my mind, and hot tears filled my tired eyes."