The birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and the kids are finally shedding their winter coats! You know what that means . . . spring and summer weather is either upon us, or about to be. And although this time of year brings BBQs, baseball games, and family bike rides, it also brings health hazards parents should be vigilant about—such as hot car deaths, overexposure to harmful sun rays, and accidental drowning.

Growing up, most of us thought of drowning as a horrific scene out of a movie—a dead body in a lake or a pool. As long as kids could swim (or had water wings) and the pool was fenced in, kids were safe, right? Well in recent years a new type of “drowning” has made headlines and it’s something parents need to watch out for. Because if our kids inhale excessive amounts of water but continue to play and swim and seem fine, as Sarasota mom Lacey Grace now knows, it’s crucial to still keep an eye on them.

Grace, mom to a daughter named Elianna, shares in a now-viral Facebook post that her daughter was playing a game with a pool noodle and water went directly down her throat unexpectedly. “She threw up immediately but didn’t really have any other notable things happen,” Grace says. “30 minutes after the ‘accident’ she was totally fine—normal, playing, eating, etc. The next day, even, she was fine.”

However, her daughter was anything but fine.

The post goes on to describe how Elianna’s health began to change. “Come Monday she developed a fever. Kids get fevers, this is normal. I didn’t think much. Tuesday she slept most of the day but still overall looked fine. Sent her to school Wednesday and got a call in the afternoon that her fever was back.”

It was then that something clicked in Lacey Grace’s memory, as she recalled an article she read in the past about a boy who died from secondary drowning. It was the story of Frankie Delgado, who at four years old, passed away from dry drowning. With that tragic story in mind, the concerned mother thought she’d have her daughter checked over, just to rule out any complications. 

“We went from school to the urgent care, hoping the doctor would say ‘her lungs sound great, it’s just viral, etc’.” But that’s not what the doctor said. “We were there about 10 minutes when the doctor said to get her to the nearest ER as soon as possible.”

Grace describes that Elianna’s “heart rate was crazy high, her oxygen was low, and her skin was turning purple which suggested chemical infection.” And she adds,  that she and her child “went to the nearest ER where they did a chest X-ray and showed inflammation and infection caused from pool chemicals.”

As a mother, I cannot imagine this moment. A freak accident from playing a silly water game means that your child is now relying on antibiotics and oxygen to stay alive.

Her post states that the official diagnosis is “aspiration pneumonia” and Elianna is “now on oxygen and relying on it to breathe.” She is also taking high doses of medication to heal the infection, but her fevers continue.

The scariest part of this story is that Elianna’s doctors told her mother Lacey, “thank God you got her here when you did.” And that’s why she is telling her story. To remind parents to educate themselves about the different types of safety hazards that come with letting our kids swim. And she knows that the article she read from that father in Texas who lost his son probably saved her daughter, so hopefully she can do the same for another parent.

“If your child inhales a bunch of water, and something seems off AT ALL, I encourage you to immediately get help,” Grace says in her post. 

To understand what dry drowning and secondary drowning are, and what symptoms to watch for, here are a few basic facts:

  • Dry drowning is related to the airway and larynx, whereas secondary drowning is related to water in the lungs causing an infection. The Cleveland Clinic reports that in dry drowning, a person inhales water and “the larynx goes shut as a protective response. No water gets in, but no air gets in either. It’s called a laryngospasm—a constriction of muscles in the airway. The longer it takes for the larynx to relax, the longer the body is deprived of oxygen.” And when a body is deprived of oxygen, it shuts down.
  • Secondary drowning results from a collection of fluid in the lungs called pulmonary edema, The Cleveland Clinic says, and the most common symptoms if this condition are respiratory problems and fever.
  • Symptoms of delayed drowning include “shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing and/or chest discomfort. Extreme fatigue, irritability and behavior changes are also possible,” according to nationwidechildrens.org. 

These recent news stories about secondary and dry drowning have caused a bit of panic among parents—myself included. I definitely watched my kids far more closely last summer, after seeing them cough up a bit of extra water while swimming. And although that’s a good thing—that I was more vigilant—there was no cause for serious alarm, as none of them ever showed any of the above symptoms. In the end, kids will show some symptoms of their bodies are struggling, so we need to watch and be ready to act if need be. But we should also let them swim safely and have a fun summer. 

We pray for Elianna’s continued recovery and thank God that her mom saw the signs, listened to her gut, and took action. Be safe out there, friends. And happy swimming.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to aid in Elianna’s recovery.

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Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson is a freelance writer who is known on social media as The 21st Century SAHM. She is an assistant editor at Sammiches and Psych Meds, staff writer and social media manager for Scary Mommy, and is the author of I Brushed My Hair Today, A Mom Journal for Mostly Together Moms. Follow Karen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/21stcenturysahm/, Twitter https://twitter.com/21stcenturysahm , and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/the21stcenturysahm/

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