It started off like a normal joyous Christmas day. Just like Christmas should be. We never imagined it would end the way it did.
We had a fun morning opening presents with our 3 boys. Bryson - 7 years; Travis - 5 years; and Connor 15 months. Once the afternoon rolled around, we went outside to visit with our neighbors. Their 3 grown boys and their families were all visiting. So we let the kids play & visit while we chatted. All the kids showed off their new toys and oooh’d and ahhh’d together.
It was nearly 3:00 pm and we needed leave to go to my parent’s house for Christmas dinner. Nate and I rounded up our troops and headed inside. I carried Connor and his new push tractor that he got for Christmas inside. I set him and his tractor down in the living room and he immediately started pushing it around again. Our older boys went back to their new LEGO sets in the dinning room and called for us to help them. Nate and I both went to the dinning room and sat down to help the boys with their awesome new builds.
We helped each of them through a couple steps on their LEGO build and chatted about how cool their new creation was going to be. A few minutes into it I realized I couldn’t hear Connor playing in the living room anymore and I said out loud, “Where is Connor?”
Keep in mind, Connor is our 3rd boy, so much doesn’t typically faze us. Connor is a mischievous toddler and is always up to something. Usually when he disappears he is found dumping LEGO pieces out of the bins in his big brothers room. Or throwing toys in the trash. Or dumping the dog’s food and water all over the floor. He’s always into something, so usually only one of us will go investigate what he’s up to when he gets quiet.
However, this time was different. As soon as I said, “where’s Connor?” we both immediately got up from our chairs to split up and look for him.
I assumed he was in the back, in his brother’s room, dumping out LEGO pieces again. Something about the sound of them crashing all over the floor makes him light up. I immediately went to the back of the house to check every room. Nate went to the front of the house to the front door and inside entrance to the garage.
I checked every room and every bathroom and there was no sign of him. My heart started racing as I circled back to the living room. Where did our little guy disappear to?
Once I made it back to the living room, I could hear Nate screaming. It was the most terrifying scream I’ve ever heard. And I immediately recognized that it was coming from our backyard. My heart sank and I knew what had happened before I even made it down the hall, through the garage, out the back door, and to our pool deck.
Connor had only been walking for 2 months at this point. Yet on that Christmas day, he managed to make it out the door from the house to the garage, down 3 steps into the garage, through our garage that is also a metal & furniture workshop, and out the back door to the pool deck, and into the pool. Nate found him floating face down in the middle of our pool, fully clothed, shoes and all, completely still.
When I finally got out to the pool deck, there was my husband-soaking wet, hovered over our baby boy’s lifeless body. Nate was screaming and crying while trying to breath into him. And I stood there and stared screaming.
I didn’t have time to get emotional yet though. I knew I had to call 911 and get help to our boy fast. Thank God I happened to have my phone in my pocket, another thing that is almost never the case. I called 911 while walking back through the garage into the house. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get details out while watching the situation on our pool deck unfold. Nate had started breathing into Connor and while I was on my way back inside 2 of our neighbors had heard our screams and ran into our house and I motioned to the pool and they ran out back to help Nate with CPR.
I immediately started pacing the living room while the 911 dispatcher was verifying my phone number and address. I was sobbing and hard to understand. I had to verify my address twice, she wasn’t hearing me right. As I continued pacing, I got impatient and blurted out “my one-year-old fell in the pool and he’s not responding”. I wanted them to get there as fast as possible. When she finally said, “help is on the way”, I knew I could finally go back outside. I walked back through the garage and stood on the deck and started screaming and sobbing. Our neighbor, Ashley, took my phone to talk to the dispatcher for me.
Nate was breathing into Connor while our neighbor, Tom, was doing chest compressions. They may not have been doing everything at the right pace and perfectly, but they were doing an amazing job while I just stood there and screamed and sobbed. At one point I remember Bryson and Travis coming outside. And Bryson started saying, “he’s dead! Connor is dead!” I quickly told him “No he is not!! He is going to be ok, go back in the house!!” I later learned that they did not go back in the house. They watched the rest of our nightmare from the porch.
When Ashley had taken my phone, the dispatcher asked her to go back to where Nate & Tom where with Connor so she could walk them through doing CPR correctly. Ashley calmly relayed instructions one by one and counted out the pace for the chest compressions following the dispatcher’s instructions. While Tom pumped, Nate could be heard crying out in the background “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”
At this point I was squatting nearby crying and watching and praying “Jesus, please save my baby”. Tom was doing chest compressions and there was a moment of hope, Connor started gurgling and trying to cough! I finally exhaled for the first time in several minutes and started crying “thank you Jesus”. A few seconds later, the paramedics were coming out through the garage. I walked to the other side of the pool and watched from a distance as they cut open his shirt and started working on him.
Ashley hugged me as I fell apart in her arms and cried. The entire 911 call was 5 minutes long, but it felt like an hour until they got there. After the paramedics worked on him for a few seconds, he started breathing and I watched them carry my limp ghostly white baby out through the garage. The police offers told me he was breathing and they were taking him to the hospital. There wasn’t time for us to ride with him.
Before we could go to the hospital, we made arrangements with our neighbors to watch our older boys until my dad could come pick the up. And we had to tell the officers at our house what had happened. Nate had to get changed and clean himself up. His face and shirt were covered in Connor’s vomit. This was definitely the one time as parent you’ve never been so happy to have your kid throw up on you!
Nate drove us to the hospital, and I knew we needed everyone praying for us and Connor, so I put a plea on Facebook “Pray for Connor. NOW!! Ambulance took him to the hospital”. While we drove, my mind started racing and I kept thinking, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this!”
When we got to the hospital, we weren’t able to see him while they worked to stabilize him. For the next 3 hours, we prayed and cried and prayed and cried. It was the longest 3 hours of our lives, but it was also a blur. He was in the ER for 30 minutes before he was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. We got very little updates yet we were somehow still calm. We sat and waited with friends. We cried together and prayed a lot.
Finally the doctor came in and gave us the update. He had to be sedated so they could intubate him to help with his breathing. But after about an hour of being intubated, he started waking up and was upset about the tube so they took it out. It took a while longer to get his vitals under control. And finally after 3 long hours, we were able to see him.
It was such a relief to finally see our baby, and to see that his color had returned. He was still on oxygen and had all the monitors hooked up to him. The wires, tubes, and machines didn’t faze us much. You see, this wasn’t Connor’s first miracle. Connor was born premature and spent 15 days in the NICU when he was born. He was our miracle baby!
The doctor told us we weren’t out of the woods yet. We wouldn’t know for sure until he woke up and was alert how much the water affected him. He could have brain damage from the lack of oxygen or other complications. We would just have to wait and see. Little did our doctors know how big our God is.
Connor spent most of the next 24 hours sleeping in the PICU. He was released from the PICU after 24 hours and moved to a regular floor. When we got to our new room, a friend had brought us dinner. And Connor was walking all around the room, hooked up to his IV, begging for nacho chips. Who was I to deny my sweet boy chips? He was eating! The nurse was caught off guard, “he’s supposed to be on a liquid diet. But I’ll see if we can move him to regular foods”. We were so excited he was eating regular food!
We had to stay at the hospital 2 more nights. He spiked a fever on day 3 so they wanted to be sure it wasn’t due to an infection in his lungs. But after 4 days in the hospital, we were free to go! Praise God, Connor was acting totally normal! He was walking and eating and being his normal self. We were so relieved!
A week after we returned home, we went to visit the paramedics who helped save our boy and thank them. They were thrilled to see Connor in such happy spirits and they loved having him there to check out the fire station.
We have learned a lot about water safety these last few months. And I did a lot of reading while in the hospital as well. It was that second day in the hospital when I read that drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1-4 years. Why had I never heard that before?
As soon as we were released from the hospital I’ve been trying to tell every person I’ve come in contact with about how important multiple layers of protection are. We even had a pool fence before all this happened. It just wasn’t up on this day. The last time we went swimming we took it down and never bothered to put it back up. We now realize how important having a pool fence and a self-closing gate are.
We had never pursued survival swimming lessons either. We made excuses because it was too expensive and we always figured Connor would naturally learn to swim on his own when he was 2 or 3, just like his big brothers did. Now we can’t wait for him to start lessons next month!
It’s been an eye-opening journey. And we are so thankful to all those that prayed for our family. We hope our story motivates others to check that they have several layers of protection at their home including door locks, pool fences & alarms, survival swimming lessons, and learning CPR.