COPY FROM ANOTHER SOURCE
On June 8, 2009 my youngest daughter Olivia was found floating on her back with her head submerged in a community pool we rented for her sister’s birthday. I am a very experienced swim coach and own a swim school now, I was a lifeguard instructor for the Red Cross for years. The pool I rented was also one I supervised and the 4 lifeguards on duty for our private pool party were trained and managed by me. There were four friends in attendance that were also certified lifeguards as well as my sister. Everyone else was family and close friends. We got everyone out of the pool for pizza and took Olivia’s floaties off so she could eat. Back then, I didn’t fully understand the dangers of floaties and puddle jumpers and I was complacent thinking surely nothing could happen to one of my children. Just about a year ago she admitted remembering events leading up and that she pretended to want pizza so she could attempt swimming without her floaties or an adult.
As we finished up pizza, Olivia’s dad and I went into the kitchen of the facility to get watermelon and cupcakes for dessert. As I came out I saw her tiny 2 year old body in her yellow polka dot bikini floating on her back. The thoughts went through my mind so quickly that she was in the water with no floaties, she was floating on her back, but wait her face was tipped too far back and underwater, and oh *expletive* she’s not moving. I jumped in the water and threw the watermelon. I still had a towel wrapped around me and my shoes on. I was the first and only person to see my lifeless daughter in a pool full of friends and experienced and well trained emergency professionals in attendance. When I got to her she was lifeless and unresponsive. Her eyes were open. She was having agonal gasps, her body was blue, and her lips were dark purple. To me.... she was dead.
I remember picking her up and holding her above my head as I carried her back to the edge of the pool because I wanted her as far away from the water as possible. With all of my screaming and commotion the crowd left me no room to climb out of the edge of the pool where I laid her down so that I could assess her and begin lifesaving measures. I remember so many hands reaching for her. People panicking and trying to help and I just kept hitting them because they were doing it wrong and wouldn’t give me room to do it myself. My sister Maggie was able to get through the crowd of people. She kept her wits and started by tilting Olivia’s head back so that she could check for signs of life. (Airway, breathing, and circulation). She opened Olivia’s airway by force because her jaw was locked shut and once Olivia’s airway opened she had spontaneous breathing and slowly woke up. My mom picked her up and I got out of the pool and took her from her arms and went back into the water. I wanted to have enough space to check on her without everyone’s hands and voices and help. I was terrified, wailing, screaming, and pretty much out of my mind.
I was coaxed back out of the water. The ambulance came so quickly and took her but we didn’t know if she was going to be ok. I wasn’t allowed to ride in back with her because no one was able to calm me down. She didn’t talk, cry, react to anything for hours. She went to Memorial Hermann first and was assessed, transported, and treated at Texas Children’s. She had minimal water in her lungs thankfully due to a reflex known as a laryngospasm. She survived thank the Lord only.
That’s my story... drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 and it is completely preventable but accidents can happen to ANYONE! Teaching swim is my passion and I also believe my greatest talent. Swim lessons save lives. I will never be the same. This experience created an intense passion for me to be the best for the career path I had already chosen.
We lost our son that night, this very loved 3-year-old who was sitting on the couch one minute and gone in the next. I am not here to fearmonger or tell you to avoid water forever. I simply but desperately want to inform and empower you about the choices you make regarding your children and swimming pools.
When we think about drowning, we think “watch your kids when they’re swimming.” However, data proves we are approaching water safety completely wrong—and our toddlers are paying the price.
Yes, the truth is jarring, and I don’t understand why the age group most at risk is basically an afterthought in how our culture approaches water safety. Drowning is the #1 cause of death for children ages 1-4, yet most parents don’t know it. And, even worse, they don’t know that toddlers are drowning during non-swim times—water is taking our kids in the stolen moments and transition times. When the parents are loading the car to leave the Fourth of July cookout. When everyone goes inside the clubhouse to open birthday presents at the party. When you are on vacation waiting for it to get dark to go crab hunting, and your son slips out of a living room filled with people.
Toddlers are curious, full-steam ahead, and worst of all, they think water is a fun and safe place. They can slip away in seconds and reach the water alone—and because of previous reliance on Puddle Jumpers, they think they will float.
On the Sunday evening our son drowned, he was sitting on the couch in a room filled with kids and adults (including both my husband and me). We had finished swimming for the day. He was already in his crab-hunting shirt and we were cleaning up from dinner. Levi somehow slipped out of the heavy doors, down a flight of stairs, through a gate, and reached the backyard pool alone. Despite only being out of sight a moment and having six physicians on our trip, including my anesthesiologist husband, we were not able to save our son.
I had no idea until afterward that drowning—especially when he wasn’t even swimming—was the reason he would not make it to his fourth birthday. I want to be clear that I am not blaming Levi’s death just on the use of a Puddle Jumper, but it was one factor of many about which I was grossly misinformed.
I believed I was doing the right thing because these flotation device companies stamp “US Coast Guard Approved” on their labeling. If you are using a Puddle Jumper because you think it is USCG approved for swimming in a pool, you have been deceived. The USCG does not endorse or approve flotation devices for use in pools. Despite their labels, they are only USCG approved for use when a child is around water but not expected to be IN it, like riding on a boat or standing on a pier.
But beyond the delays in learning to swim caused by muscle positioning and the marketing claims pushed to drive sales, the heartbreaking reality is Puddle Jumpers create a false sense of security and teach toddlers to trust the water. Young children believe they can swim and that water is safe.
The question is, if they aren’t wearing a Puddle Jumper, what should your child wear? The answer is a swimsuit with NO flotation device. They should be swimming or in a parent’s arms. The Puddle Jumper should never be a replacement for an ability to self-rescue and swim, which is what it has become over the years.
We had two more babies after losing Levi. My daughter, Willow, is 3 years old, currently just 2 months younger than her big brother was when he died. I enrolled her in self-rescue swim lessons at 9 months. She completed refresher courses at 23 months and again before she turned 3. She SWIMS across the pool, jumps in to her big sisters, and has never once worn a Puddle Jumper. If she somehow reached water alone, she would know how to immediately flip onto her back, float, and get to the edge.
My son, Teddy, is 19 months old and has also taken self-rescue lessons. He knows how to roll and float and find air independently. He is not swimming yet, so I hold him in the pool, and if that isn’t possible, we don’t go to the pool that day. We do a sprinkler day instead. Is it more work than if I strapped Puddle Jumpers on them? Yes. But is this investment in self-rescue lessons and patience worth it to know they are safe from the #1 cause of death AND that they will both be swimming by age 3? Obviously.
Puddle Jumpers are not USCG approved for pools and do not help children learn to swim. If you still choose to use one for other reasons, I am definitely not here to judge. I just don’t want another parent misled by false marketing and a culture that underemphasizes the urgency of toddler drowning.
Drowning is the #1 cause of death for toddlers, and now you KNOW. You are armed with information about risks during non-swim times and know to do more research about Puddle Jumpers. Thank you for being willing to hear this message and take action. This is how change happens—one mom at a time.
Author’s note: It is important to note that swimming pools and natural water are very different. Children, including toddlers, should know how to swim and self-rescue. Swimming pools are where to practice those skills. Since natural water (lakes, oceans, rivers) are deep, dark, and filled with currents, everyone should ALWAYS wear a USCG approved life jacket in natural water.