June 26, 2018. It was my boys' first day of summer vacation. We had no real plans that I recall. I was dragging them to the childcare at my gym then maybe we’d go in the pool while my 19 month old daughter, Mila, took a nap. Watching three of them in the pool by myself was always too much for me so nap time is typically when me and the boys would venture outback to swim.
Around 8:30 a.m. I had asked Brandon (7 years old) to keep an eye on Mila while I ran upstairs to get dressed for the gym. I did this often, they would typically sit and watch tv. Plus I was quickly getting dressed… what’s the worst that could happen? Mila and Brandon were sitting on the couch together and my 5 year old, Christian was sitting on the other couch. I went upstairs. I can’t tell you exactly how long I was up there for, not long, I’d guess 5 minutes. I came downstairs and rather then check on Mila I decided I had to change my sports bra because it didn’t match my top. I went into the laundry room and changed then went into the family room where the kids were. Both boys were fixated on the television and Mila was not there. I asked “Where’s Mila?”.
This question still gives me the chills. Brandon pointed to the corner where her toys were but she wasn’t there. I yelled at him and I feel horrible that I did.. I said “Really Brandon!! Really!”. Like a 7 year old should have that responsibility! He should not have been put in that position. I quickly looked around the first floor of the house and I don’t see Mila. My attention is then drawn to the back slider door and it was open a few inches. This is one of the many visions that is forever burned in head. I ran outback and scanned the pool hoping not to find Mila in there. The last spot I looked I see her, floating face down, lifeless in her little Wonder Woman nightgown.
I repeatedly screamed at the top of my lungs, “Help, call 911” at the same time I jump in and grab her. She was unconscious with no signs of life. Her belly bloated, her lips and skin purplish blue. I was in shock and almost did not know what to do, I am CPR certified and still was almost frozen. I’m still screaming for help while giving my baby girl chest compressions. Brandon ran inside and found my phone and had Siri call 9-1-1. Brandon then says “I’m sorry Mommy, I’ll go to my room”. The guilt that I put on my child is unfair to him. Both of my boys are watching me try to revive their sister. I was so nervous of her head on the pavers as I gave her chest compressions. Then my God sent neighbor, Bernadette, heard my screams and came to the backyard to help me and she also had 911 on the phone. I remember asking her “What do I do?” as I am giving her CPR. I thought Mila was gone.
So many things went through my head during this time. How do I tell my husband? We have to move. How am I going to go on? This is my fault. This isn’t supposed to happen to us. If she is revived will she have brain damage? Bernadette then looked at me and asked “Want me to help you?” and I cried “Yes ,Yes”. She gave compressions while I provided breaths to my baby girls foam covered lips. Finally, she began to whimper and moan. Not a full out cry but she was alive. I picked her up and ran inside and grabbed my diaper bag and was preparing for the trip to the hospital. While I waited for the ambulance it seemed like eternity. I called my husband, Luis, and while crying and panicking told him the Mila had fell in the pool. I can’t imagine getting that call at work, he was 45 minutes away but he heard her noises on the other end of the line so he didn’t quite know the extent of what had just transpired.
The paramedics finally arrived, the State Police, the local ambulance. It was surreal. Once the paramedic began hooking Mila up to the machines she began to throw up so much water, as well as her fruit she had for breakfast. I wish I had got that water out of her. Just one of many things I wish I had done differently that day. Mila’s color in her face and lips started to return to normal and she was crying almost like normal. The medics and Bernadette continued to reassure me that she was going to be okay. We were going to be flown to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), but the helicopter was too far away so the paramedics transported us the local emergency room, Virtua Hospital in Mount Holly. Luis soon arrived and the pain mixed with relief on his face is something I will never forget. Once the doctors took x-rays of Mila’s lungs they had us transported to CHOP due to her lungs becoming inflamed.
Mila still had yet to talk or smile so the thought of brain damage weighed heavy on my mind however the doctors were hopeful. During the transport to CHOP Mila’s breathing began to become labored. Once at CHOP they hooked her up to a C-Pap machine to assist her breathing which thankfully worked otherwise she was going to need a breathing tube inserted. The longest, scariest day of my life but also one of the happiest because my baby girl was still with me and I was going to be able to bring her home.
It wasn’t until 9:00 that night that we finally got her to smile. We video called my boys and as soon as she saw her silly brother Christian we saw her beautiful smile. It was a long sleepless night for us all but the next morning the C-pap machine was removed and Mila was breathing perfectly on her own and she showed no signs of any brain trauma. Her fearless funny personality was back. We were released the very next day after this horrific accident.
I never thought this would happen to our family.
I don’t want to say I didn’t know the dangers of having a pool, we did. We just had a false sense of security, that for some reason, it would not happen to our family. We had a safety net…that we never used. We had two locks on the backdoor. I failed to check the locks that day before I went upstairs. I now know and want other parents to know there are several barriers that must be in place to ensure your babies are safe. Locked doors, pool fence, self rescue survival swimming lessons, knowledge of CPR, supervision, as well as education. I had zero idea that drowning is the leading cause of accidental deaths for children age 1 to 4.
For some reason, drowning is not spoken about. I want to help change that, which I why I share my story to anyone who will listen. I also want to express that this can happen to anyone. Luis and I are both Police Officers, we protect people for a living and our own daughter almost died on my watch at our own home. I don’t want another parent to endure the pain I have felt since this accident, the guilt, the what if’s, the recurring images in my head, the recurring dreams. And I am so very fortunate that my story ended with Luis and I taking our baby girl home perfectly perfect. I cannot even imagine the pain if we were to lose her that day. I thank God every day.
Written by Courtney Navas. Mother, police officer, PPCD Ambassador