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I Never Thought Dry Drowning Could Happen to My Kid, Until It Almost Did

Photograph by Twenty20

Going to the pool on a hot summer’s day sounded fun and relaxing. My daughter had been asking to go for days so I decided to venture out with the kids to the community pool in our neighborhood. “Easy peasy,” I thought. There are lots of lifeguards and the shallow end is less than three feet deep. I can probably enjoy myself and the children without too much anxiety. I was thinking about how nice it was to get out and see everyone happily playing.

Minutes later, everything changed.

My 20 month-old son Titus and I were sitting together on one of the steps and he started blowing bubbles—something we practice a lot in the tub. This is something that my 5-year-old and I did when she was in swim lessons. Totally safe, right? So I thought, let's do it!

As we were blowing bubbles, he took a deep breath of water in. I could tell it was a lot—not just a little clear-your-throat type. His face changed very quickly to a blueish-grey. He coughed up some water, but didn't cry and mostly seemed normal.

After a few more minutes, his color wasn't going back fast enough for my liking. So I found the lifeguard who was unsure about what I was talking about. He referred me to the paramedic on duty overseeing the lifeguards. The medic looked at my son's face then inspected the bottoms of his feet. The thing is, when a medical professional is concerned—no matter how calm they are—you can tell.

He asked to take him into the office to check him out. With my two other young children in the water, I let him take my son. Titus was acting like his usual self and went with the man easily.

A few minutes later a girl came out to find me and asked that I come with her. The medic said that the my son's eyes were all “blown-out” and dilated. He went on to explain how Titus had started staring-off. He listened to his lungs and could hear wheezing.

Then he suggested we call 911.

No mother wants to follow behind her baby in an ambulance.

I wasn't about to argue with him, but I really hadn't planned on making such a big deal. A few minutes passed and I heard the sirens coming. Suddenly, my mama heart panic started to set in. They're coming for my baby. MY baby.

The paramedics arrived. They immediately say they needed to take him to be evaluated at the nearest hospital.

No mother wants to follow behind her baby in an ambulance. But there I was, following close behind with my other kids, knowing my baby was in there with a stranger.

We got settled in as the doctor checked him out and listened to his lungs.

"Everything seems good," he said. The plan was to monitor him for 2 to 3 hours and take a chest X-ray.

Fast forward 2 hours later, Titus' color had returned and he was back to himself, playing with a new friend. The doctor walked in on a happy boy running and laughing and playing in the small waiting area. I felt pretty sure he was going to tell me he was totally fine and free to go home.

He asked to talk to me outside, where he dropped a bomb on me:

"So our goal in taking the X-ray was to look for inflammation, and we found it. I feel silly telling you that this child is going to be admitted into the hospital and we will watch him for the next 12 hours. If his oxygen levels were to drop, we want it to be here and not at home."

Titus had water in his lungs and the chlorine was causing inflammation, the water itself, infiltration. After contacting our insurance company, we were transported to a pediatric unit where we spent the night. The next morning’s x-ray came back all clear and we were discharged.

What Titus could have fallen victim to is called delayed drowning—also called dry drowning and secondary drowning—and if I had had no knowledge of this condition, I may not have been as quick to act or question. I could have chalked it up to "he's cold," but that would have been a huge mistake. Water safety is so much more than swim lessons.

I'm sharing my story today to bring awareness to other parents and caregivers. You never think delayed drowning would happen to you, but when you have a close call like my family did, you realize it could really happen to anyone at anytime. Luckily our story ended with my son being perfectly fine, but this is a perfect example of how dangerously silent and sneaky it can be.

So know the symptoms, know what to look for and if you ever even question the slightest abnormality while swimming, please take your child to the hospital right away!

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