My nine-year old son Andrew drowned.
It’s still hard for me to say this out loud, so that is why I put it first. It’s been four weeks and six days since it happened.
My son drowned and was brought back to life by strangers who had CPR training.
He was brought back to life.
He is alive.
We are so blessed. God had everybody where they needed to be for Andrew’s life to be saved. I can’t tell you how destroyed we would have been if anything had gone differently that day. My heart came so close to being obliterated. Even now, it feels like shattered glass in a picture frame. It’s still there. It’s still whole. But shattered, nonetheless.
I’ve been feeling the need to share Andrew’s story. With summer coming and people spending more time in and on the water I’m feeling nervous and afraid for everyone. I want everyone to know that drowning is not like in the movies with splashing and waving.
It happened so fast and so silently.
Water safety has always been important to my husband and me; therefore our kids have taken swimming lessons for the past several years. We spent half of last summer in a pool. Our kids are familiar with and not afraid of water.
This story begins with a family weekend get-together. Every year, we get together with Michael’s extended family the weekend before Thanksgiving at a place we call “The Lodge.” Between 40 and 50 of us gather and we always have a blast and truly look forward to it every year. My kids usually start asking for a countdown in March and pack for it in July. After this long, cold winter we all decided we missed each other and that we should get together for a weekend this spring.
We decided to go to Sioux Falls, SD to a hotel water park the last weekend in April. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles could sit around and chat while kids are entertained with water and cousins. Friday evening was spent just so, cocktails in hand, catching up on everybody’s news and counting kids as they ran by.
There was a 1 ft deep pool with a really cool pirate ship, a couple hot tubs, a 5 ft pool, and a two-story waterslide that emptied into a 3.5 ft pool. Our older three kids spent the entire evening on the water slide. Dutch hung out mostly at the pirate ship.
On Saturday morning, Michael and I took our four kids (Andrew – 9, Josephine – 8, Eleanor – 6, Dutch – 4) to Walmart to buy a life vest for our youngest. We ended up letting each of the kids pick out a water toy. Andrew decided on a mask and snorkel set because he doesn’t like water in his nose.
Back at the hotel, the kids resumed their play from the night before. This time, Dutch, armed with his life vest, took on the water slide. His siblings took turns helping him over to the side of the pool to get back out and do it again.
Michael’s cousin Joy and her husband Ryan, who live in Sioux Falls had just bought a new house and invited us to go for a tour. We were all excited to see it and about 12 of us decided to carpool over. While Mike stayed behind to watch the kids, I hopped in the car with Joy. Right before I left, I gave Michael some ibuprofen from my purse, because his back molar had been aching and bothering him the last couple of days.
Michael was sitting near the end of the water slide, watching our kids and their cousins go up and down, up and down.
After a while, some of the kids ventured into a nearby pool and started playing a game. Andrew and Josephine joined them. Dutch sat on the edge of the pool with his feet in the water. Since the kids were further away, Michael got up from his chair intending to go to the bar (that was closer to the pool the kids were in) for a glass of water to take the medicine and to find Eleanor.
As he walked past the five foot pool that three-fourths of our kids were playing in, he paused at the far corner trying to locate Eleanor. She was supposed to be playing in the pirate ship pool. When he could not see her, he looked back at the deep pool trying to see if she had joined her siblings. He saw Josephine swimming across the pool, Dutch sitting on the side, Andrew using his new mask, and 13yo Mitchell and some of the other cousins were playing water games. No Eleanor.
He looked back at the pirate ship, then back at Andrew. He was thinking it was surprising that Andrew was in the deep pool, he hadn’t really liked deep water last summer. This raised his suspicions.
Looking closer at Andrew now, Michael could not recall seeing him come up for air. His goggles had come above the surface of the water but not his mouth. Something seemed off, so Michael walked up the side of the pool to get a closer look at the kids.
By this time, Andrew had shifted from the center of the pool and was closer to the side. He was now face-up as if looking at the ceiling through the water. Even now, Michael still thought Andrew could possibly be playing, but thought it was weird that he hadn’t seen him come up for air yet. Had he missed it when he looked away?
Then he saw bubbles and Andrew starting to sink.
Michael was now scared something was really wrong. Since Andrew was within arms reach of Mitchell, Michael had him pull Andrew up from underwater and Michael lifted him out. As soon as Andrew broke the surface he knew something was very, very wrong. He was blue in the face and completely limp.
Michael can still hear Josephine’s terrified scream when she saw her brother coming out of the water.
He wasn’t breathing. He had no pulse.
He was dead.
Mike gave him a couple breaths but nothing happened. People started running over. Two strangers, who had medical training, took over CPR and revived Andrew. After one round of CPR, Andrew vomited and water started gushing out of his body.
Andrew was brought back to life.
EMTs arrived, although we have no idea who called them.
I hadn’t been gone even ten minutes and never actually made it to Joy’s house; we got a phone call about the situation and started coming back immediately. I was so glad I was with Joy who knew her way around the city. She drove me straight to the hospital where I waited for the ambulance to arrive. What was minutes seemed like hours.
The medical staff assured us we had the best outcome possible. They called him Miracle Boy. Reviving a drowning victim on scene is the best case scenario. We were so lucky. We are so blessed.
They were concerned about pulmonary edema so Andrew needed to stay in the hospital overnight. Mike’s parents and sister took care of our other three children so that we could both be with him. He was put on hi-flow oxygen to help dry out his lungs. He was alert and talking but still didn’t seem to be himself yet.
When we could talk to him about what happened, we got the story from his perspective. He said that he got into the pool and pushed off from the side, got to the middle and put his feet down, expecting to touch bottom. The pool was deeper than he had realized and his body panicked. It was as simple and gut-wrenching as that.
He had gotten in at the 5ft end of the pool, not the 3.5ft depth that he’d been in the whole time we were there. His head went underwater and he never resurfaced.
He had touched the bottom of the pool with his foot but couldn’t get back up to the surface. He tried reaching out for a cousin but couldn’t make his body move.
He was in a pool with half a dozen kids who know and love him and no one knew what was going on. It happened so fast and so quietly.
Andrew’s night in the hospital went smoothly and by morning he was back to his usual self. It was such a relief to see him, the real him, again.
We are so lucky and so very, very blessed. And yet there’s a grief that has its grip on my heart. Grief for what did happen and grief for what so very nearly happened. I have my son. Our family is still complete. I am grateful beyond words.
I know I can get through anything, even this strange grateful-grief, as long as I have them.
I consider Michael, Mitchell and those who performed CPR on Andrew to be earthly angels. They are heroes to me. Michael won’t hear that, will not believe that of himself. He’s too filled with dread for how closely things were timed. What if he had gotten to the side of the pool even 30 seconds later?
I have many more stories and many more things to say about the incident. The phone call we got in the car and the anxiety I feel every time the phone rings now. How family members took the younger cousins back in the pool, one-on-one, later that day so they wouldn’t be scared of water. Dutch’s warning when we took Andrew swimming the next week, “Don’t go underwater and die!” The tears and pain in my husband’s eyes when he whispered, “If we had lost him, how could you ever have forgiven me?” Would not only our son, but our marriage have been lost, too?
Those are stories for another day. But for now what I really want to say is this: Please, please, please keep an eye on your kids in the water. Take a CPR class. You can’t prevent every bad thing from happening but you certainly can be prepared on how to deal with it.