A couple of months ago, I was contacted by Meg of Meg & Claire on Instagram to help generate awareness about a TV interview with Nicole Hughes, a mother who tragically lost her son Levi to drowning last summer. I immediately connected with her message and wanted to spread additional awareness via the platform I have here. As a parent, this is a truly unimaginable tragedy and this is undoubtedly the most important post you’ll read on my blog, especially as we head into summer.
Now a passionate advocate for water safety and drowning prevention, Nicole is bravely sharing Levi’s story to educate parents and caretakers and save lives. I’m honored to have Nicole here today to share her son’s story. Her story is all of our stories because this could truly happen to anyone in seconds – I hope this post will provide you with the education, resources and knowledge to prevent drowning in your family and the community at large. You can learn more at www.levislegacy.com.
Tell us about your story and Levi’s final day
My husband has I have been married for 15 years. We always knew we wanted 3 kids. After having 2 daughters (Lily and Reese), we were thrilled to find out Levi was a boy and would complete our family.
And, Levi was ALL BOY. His favorite hobbies were: running, jumping, being outside, making messes, and being naked (preferably all five at once). But, despite his silliness and energy, he was also the best snuggler and was such a Mama’s boy. His big sisters adored him, fretting over him and sneaking him Ring Pops any time I disciplined him.
He was to be our final baby, our caboose. Lily and Reese were both there the night Levi drowned, the night the world ended. Lily, my 10 year old, has asked me through tears: “How did we not know he could drown when he was sitting on the couch?” And my Kindergartener, Reese, has looked at me with her broken heart and said, “Why did we only get him for 3 years and not for a real, whole life?”
My husband is an anesthesiologist, and we became close friends with 5 other families during his medical training. Each year, we met in Fort Morgan, AL, and this beach trip was one of our favorite weeks of the year.
Sunday, June 10, was our first full day. It was a perfect day, especially in the eyes of a 3-year-old, and I do find comfort in this small mercy. Levi played with friends, swam in the ocean, jumped to his sister in the pool, flew a kite with his dad. I have 16 photos of Levi from his final day of life, and in 14 of them, he is wearing a life jacket or puddle jumper.
They are all time stamped June 10, as we marched toward the end we didn’t know was coming. The desperation I feel to reach into these photos and stop time is suffocating. How did I not know the real truth about drowning?
After we finished swimming for the day, I gave Levi a bath. We finished dinner and all of the parents and kids were hanging out in the kitchen/main room of the house. The dads were taking the kids crab hunting once it was dark, and we were basically just waiting on the sun to set. They all wore matching neon yellow shirts, and at three years old, Levi was thrilled to finally be one of the big kids. My husband grabbed him and flipped him upside down, asking him: “How many crabs are we going to catch tonight?” I never imagined we would lose our cherished boy before the crab hunting trip even started.
Levi was sitting on the couch, surrounded by friends. I grabbed a small brownie and gave him half, ruffling his hair and grinning at his delight. Then, I put the other half in my mouth. This would be my final interaction with my son.
I have relived the next few moments on repeat, willing to go back in time, desperate to go back and shake my shoulders, to grab Levi and never let him go for the rest of my days.
I wasn’t drinking and wasn’t on my phone. What was I even doing? How did none of us see him get out the back door? I turned to close a bag of Cheetos, threw something away, said something to a friend by the door.
Levi was gone such a short time I didn’t even know he was missing. I walked out on the balcony to check on the weather. When I glanced over it and into the pool below, a bright spot of yellow pierced my soul. It was Levi, at the bottom of the pool.
My first thought was confusion: “But, you can drown when you are wearing khaki shorts?” Then, panic set in and I ran screaming down the spiral staircase. I jumped in and grabbed my son’s body, pleading to trade places with this boy who still had so much life to live, this boy I had somehow failed to protect.
All six physicians were there immediately by the side of the pool, including my own husband who performed CPR on his only son, his namesake. Levi received the best possible care and was even intubated before the ambulance arrived. He regained a pulse and was airlifted to the hospital. But, we lost him just hours later.
I can never do justice to the pain that is walking out of a hospital room without our son. We brought him into the world and then had to watch in horror as he was snatched from us.
What are the most important things parents need to know about drowning?
If you had given me 1,000 reasons why one of my children would drown, drowning would have been my 1,000th guess. I never imagined one of my children would drown.
As I said, we took water safety seriously. Levi wore a puddle jumper or life jacket EVERY TIME he was swimming. But, I didn’t know that those just provided a false sense of security.
*Drowning is the #1 cause of death for children ages 1-4 and #2 for ages 5-19. The numbers are of epidemic proportion, but sadly it is still mostly an afterthought in our culture.
*69% of toddlers who drown do so when they aren’t even swimming.
* Even the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees: “Drowning can happen to anyone, and it can happen in seconds.”
* Babies are most at risk in bathtubs, toilets, and buckets.
* Toddlers are most at risk in pools (but also still in bathtubs, toilets, and buckets).
* Elementary age children are most at risk in pools. Children have drowned in pools with lifeguards and even at swim practice.
* Teens are most at risk in natural water. A 15-year-old boy is actually 3 times as likely as a toddler to drown, but for the teen, it’s usually natural water (lake, river, ocean). Toddlers are teens are the most at risk age groups for drowning, so parents of teens need to instill the importance of life jackets on natural water (ALWAYS, even for adults).
What are ways we can take action NOW to prevent drowning? What are ways we can secure our homes, pools, etc.
The most important action step parents can take is to realize that drowning happens to real people. Every year, almost 1,000 children drown, and drowning is 100% preventable.
Parents should put as many barriers between their child and the water as possible. Drowning requires layers of protection.
Levi didn’t have any layers of protection in place, because I had never even heard of this before June 10. Had even just one been in place, my son would still be alive. He would have had the chance to turn 4, had the chance to have a childhood.
I feel certain that Levi would have lived if he has taken swim lessons that focused on survival skills. Not all swim lessons are created equal, so please choose programs carefully. Click here for more information about swim lessons.
How can we change our attitudes about drowning (ie: thinking “it will never happen to me”, relying on flotation devices, relying on “someone else is watching the kids” etc.)
There is a stigma around drowning, and nobody thinks it will happen to them. Our culture assumes drowning only happens to neglectful parents who don’t watch their children when they are swimming. It’s easier to find the loophole rather than face the fear that this could be your child.
(Levi and his biggest sister, Lily).(Levi and his big sister, Reese).
Drowning is seen almost as a punishment. When a toddler drowns, the reaction is: “Well, the parents should have been watching him.” When a teenager drowns, the reaction is: “Well, why did he jump off the cliff without a life jacket?”
But, beliefs like this in our culture are FAILING out children. Drowning doesn’t happen to the parents. As much as we will have a lifetime of regret and despair, drowning doesn’t happen to the parents. It happens to the child. Levi will not have a childhood, will not have a real life.
Thousands of children every year have their lives snatched away in seconds, because it’s easier for parents to find the loophole rather than face this fear.
The statistics on drowning are staggering. People of all ages and in all geographical areas are at risk. Trust me- I never imagined one of my children would drown. Please don’t wait until tragedy is your motivation to take water safety seriously.
For more information, please visit: www.levislegacy.com