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A PICU Nurse's Response to Drowning

Melissa Evans, Pediatric ICU nurse from Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, TX took the time to answer a few of our questions. In 2017, the Houston Chronical chose her as one of the Top 10 nurses out of hundreds of nominations in the Salute to Nurses 2017. Read more of her story here. She cared for my son, Jackson, the summer of 2016.

Jenny Bennett (JB): Thank you, Melissa, for taking the time to answer my questions! Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Melissa Evans (ME): My name is Melissa. I live in the Houston area with my husband, John, and young sons Jackson and Levi. I have worked as a PICU nurse since graduating from nursing school in 2012. I first worked in Lubbock after attending Texas Tech. I started working at Children’s Memorial Hermann in Houston in 2013. My earliest memories and aspirations for “what I wanted to be when I grew up” involved children and healthcare. When I was in nursing school, I went in thinking I would end up in a pediatric ER or PICU. I would always beg my instructors for shifts in these two areas. I knew I wanted to serve kids and their families in need of medical attention.

The Evans Family

JB: Two summers ago, you took care of my son Jackson Bennett as a patient in your PICU. How did that impact you as a nurse and as a mom?

ME: Jackson and my own son share not only a name but also were close in age. Of course, as a mom my heart was so heavy and felt so burdened. I vividly remember, before even fully getting report from the overnight nurse, walking into Jackson’s room, room 9; Adam and Jenny sitting on the bench, and I was hit with an immense connection and love for this family. I knew this family was walking through a nightmare, and I wanted to offer the best care for this boy and family possible in the midst of all the pain.

This experience reminded me of the type of special role I can provide families. I get to care for each and every patient I am entrusted with on any given work day in the PICU. Every baby, toddler, child, and adolescent is a special, unique individual who deserves great care. Along the way in my time as a nurse, there are certain families and situations that have deeply impacted me. These days I got to care for Jackson and his family are a time that I will always carry with me. Now when I hear Mickey Mouse clubhouse or see a “Little Blue Truck” book, I always think of precious Jackson Bennett.

JB: Can you tell us a little more about other drowning patients you have seen in the PICU?

ME: I would say most drowning and near drowning patients I have cared for have been toddler age children. Of this category of patient population, I cannot think of many common themes. I know that nobody is immune to this type of accident. What is common is that all children are curious, adventurous, and quick. Though every situation is different, it seems that there was always an assumption of who is watching the child when the accidents occur. I can think of situations where there was a party with lots of people around, but who was specifically keeping eyes on the child may have switched around, understandably with lots of kids around, and in these moments when a child isn’t specifically monitored an accident happens. I would say that most parents say they "didn't know", there is a lack of awareness and education for this topic.

JB: Tell me about the parents. Did you get the impression they had neglected their child?

ME: No. Similar to Jackson’s story, where the idea of neglect never once crossed my mind, drownings are often incredibly tragic accidents that happen in an instant. Adam and Jenny (I remember a self-described helicopter mom) were clearly loving and attentive parents.

JB: Before you became a PICU nurse, did you know how prevalent childhood drowning was?

ME: I do not think I was aware. I think many people are unaware!

JB: Have you made any changes to your own practices at home concerning water safety since?

ME: I have made contact with a local ISR instructor and hope to have both of my boys go through these lessons. When we are at gatherings where there is a pool, my husband and I try to have a game plan for who is watching which child and clearly communicate which one we are “in charge” of.

JB: Any changes you would like to see happen that might have prevented several of these drownings or help prevent future drownings?

ME: I think people like Jenny who are willing to share their story can be very impactful. Through Jenny, we are reminded that accidents can happen to anyone. No one is above something happening to them. I hope that any parent can pause and see what they can do to try and prevent drowning accidents. I know I often hear people with backyard pools who are procrastinating making it safer for any reason - time, money, not sure of which type of cover/gate/fences - would prioritize doing it.

Thank you, Melissa, so much for taking the time to answer my questions! I think this is a very important perspective we have yet to hear. Please continue to be an amazing nurse when caring for our children, as well as the parents.

Read more about Melissa from the Houston Chronicle article.

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