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

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.

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.

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.

A 3-year-old can drown in less than one minute: silently and without a struggle. The articles also fail to mention how often (the majority of times) drowning happens when not swimming. I am like any other mom: winging it, doing my best, and depending on parenting guidance from pediatricians and parenting articles. How else am I supposed to know what I am doing? Drowning needs to be addressed with as much concern as newborns sleeping on their backs to sleep, vaccinations, and car seat safety. Drowning is just as deadly and just as preventable. Drowning is a leading cause of death in children, and it needs to be treated as such. Can we please start talking about it?

I want to make it clear that hundreds of pediatricians and other medical professionals have reached out to me about Levi’s story. I am encouraged, humbled, and touched by how many of these influential people are already advocating for water safety and want to continue to be part of this solution. Thank you. I hope to get the same response from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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, 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.

We have two daughters, Levi’s older sisters, whom he adored, and we cannot let them lose us, too. This pain is unimaginable, but every second is a CHOICE. I am choosing to breathe, choosing to advocate. The pain and darkness threaten to suffocate. But when I choose to turn on the light, I see goodness. People are hearing Levi’s message, questioning why they didn’t know the truth about drowning, taking action.

We have a chance to change the future, to save sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Trust me, I never imagined myself in the role of water-safety advocate until I was thrust into it by my grief. Drowning is a leading cause of death and is 100 [percent] preventable. We can do better. We can fix this for our children.

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.

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