When You Almost Lose A Child

We had a near miss in October of 2010.  It was one of those days that remain etched in memory forever afterwards, including the sick feeling of “What if?”

It was a day like any other.  I was heading to work.  Nathan was staying home with our two boys.  Sam was 3 and Noah 7 months old.  We both worked part time and looked after our boys part time.  Our backyard was big enough for kids to play in and reasonably secure with a 5 foot fence all around.  A fence with no footholds for little feet.

Sam, age 3

Sam, age 3

Nathan was in the backyard playing with Sam.  He was so energetic as a toddler that we simply let him run – up and down, round and round the yard.  We were perpetually being asked to do another running race.  This particular day, our baby was getting tired, so Nathan left Sam to play outside while he took Noah in to put him down for a sleep.  A few minutes later, he went back out to play with Sam.  Only Sam wasn’t there.  The backyard was empty.  Maybe he’d gone inside.  So Nathan searched the house.  Again, no Sam.  By this time Nathan was starting to feel a little worried and headed out to the backyard again.  Only this time he could hear a voice calling out for help – Sam’s voice.  Starting to panic, Nathan scanned the yard.  There was a tricycle against the back fence and Sam’s voice was coming from the neighbours’ yard.

Nathan quickly got himself over the fence and ran towards Sam’s voice.  The neighbours had a pool.  And Sam was in it, struggling to keep his head above water.  It didn’t take Nathan long to jump in and pull him out.  A very frightened and subdued Sam.

Somehow Sam had managed to climb over their pool fence.  He had stripped off his clothes and jumped into the deep end.  Our impulsive little boy simply sensed a bit of adventure and some fun, not comprehending the dangerous situation into which he was heading.  He had managed to keep his head above water just long enough for my husband to reach him.  We were thankful he had had swimming lessons since the age of 13 months.  We think this helped him to stay afloat long enough for Nathan to reach him.

Our backyard fence

Our backyard fence

It was frightening.  Nathan called me at work.  That night we barely slept.  We were struggling with the fact that we could have lost our son.  Thankfully we didn’t.  We thanked God for sparing us tragedy that day.   We still had our Sam.  And we wouldn’t let him out of our sight for quite a long time after this event.

Yet we know there are other parents out there who have not been spared and have lost a child to drowning, or are living with the lifelong consequences of physical and intellectual disability in a child who was resuscitated.

We thought our yard was pretty safe for kids.  It only took a few minutes for our adventurous little boy to find a way over the fence while one parent was seeing to the needs of another child.  There is a study that has shown that 20% of three year olds and 62% of four year olds can scale a standard pool fence.  We had never feared a drowning incident near our home as we didn’t have a pool.  But we did have a little boy who wasn’t easily stopped by natural boundaries such as high fences.  To this day I still cannot fathom how he managed to scale that fence without hurting himself.  Or how he even got himself over.  He was only three.

One good thing that came of this incident was a comprehension of danger.  Sam became much more cautious and was able to understand that warnings from Mummy and Daddy needed to be heeded.  He developed a better sense of his own limitations.  In fact, today we call him Mr Safety.  He takes great interest in all sorts of safety signs and warnings.  He often points out things that could be a danger and feels the need to alert any adult with authority of anything he considers a threat (in true dramatic Sam fashion!).  On a flight last year he was carefully examining the pictures in the laminated safety card – the one that shows you where to exit the plane if it crashes into the ocean, how to put on lifejackets and get into a life raft.  I had to answer a multitude of detailed questions asked by my 5 year old safety inspector in his little high pitched voice.  I hoped the person sitting behind us didn’t have a fear of flying.

Sam loves the water, age 4

Sam loves the water, age 4

We still have our beautiful Sam.  He loves the water and is becoming a confident swimmer.  We had to let go of “What if?” and simply accept that we still have our Sam.  However, we sincerely hope that other parents will be spared the emotional turmoil of such a close call with their children.

And that is why we chose to share our story as part of National Swim Safety Week.  Sam’s story was featured in the Courier Mail this week as part of a national campaign to raise awareness in regards to water safety.

Courier Mail article launching Swim SAFER week featuring Sam