Anytime I hear of a child passing away, it is like a punch to the gut. Sometimes I can look it in the face and read a fellow mom’s tragic story, and other times I have to click away because I just can’t go there. Last night I read the story of fellow mom Cassandra Free as she shared the tragic cause of her 9-year-old son Andy’s death. I didn’t look away, though it was hard because I also have a 9-year-old son. I didn’t look away because I knew the story of Andy’s death will save other lives. That is why Cassandra shared it, and why I felt compelled to share it with you.

In her now-viral Facebook post dated August 28th, this heartbroken mom says her family hadn’t shared the details of Andy’s June 6th death until now because “we hadn’t been fully willing to publicly share until we had autopsy answers.”

While Andy’s death had been reported as a drowning, the family now has confirmation that it was actually caused by open-air carbon monoxide poisoning from the family’s boat.

If you’re like me, you just said, “What?” when you read that. Open-air carbon monoxide poisoning? I had no idea that could even happen. Tragically, neither did the Free family. After losing their beautiful son, they have made it their mission to make sure other families are aware of this deadly, silent force that can happen outdoors, particularly on motor-powered watercraft.

RELATED: 10 Water Safety Tips From a Mom Who Investigates Drownings

Andy’s death was first thought to be by drowning because he fell asleep on the family’s boat and then slipped off into the water, but his mom says he was a strong swimmer and never woke up or tried to swim, so they suspected something else was wrong. She goes on to say in her post:

“His brothers were treated that night at St. Francis for ‘Acute Carbon Monoxide poisoning.’ Andrew has been swimming since he was two years old—he was a STRONG swimmer—and yet he didn’t even struggle. Now we know why.

“His COHb was 72 percent. His so-called ‘drowning’ was secondary to the fact that he never would have lived at that level. What does that mean? It means Andrew was not going to live regardless of what happened next. He was at the back of our Malibu Skier most of the day. Boats, even moving, create a backdraft of exhaust. That’s right. Exactly what I’ve typed: carbon monoxide exits the rear of the boat and drafts right back into the back of the boat.

“Backseat riders are especially vulnerable at low speeds and in long no-wake zones like the one we had to cross to return to the docks.”

Moms, if you are like me, you had NO idea this kind of carbon monoxide poisoning is even possible.

Cassandra continued, “I didn’t know this. No one I know knew this. It’s called ‘open-air carbon monoxide poisoning. Another friend looked into this and found that it can happen on other recreational vehicles like 4-wheelers.”

Because she didn’t know that open-air carbon monoxide poisoning existed, Cassandra Free attributed Andy’s symptoms to a long day on the water—as we all would have. She says:

“Our little Andy, our Dude, was probably slowly dying that afternoon/evening and we didn’t know it. He would’ve been tired. His head would’ve started to hurt. Sounds like too much sun after a long, physically draining day of wakeboarding, wake surfing, and tubing.”

You guys, this breaks my heart into a MILLION pieces. If you use motorized watercraft or ATVs, please be aware of this danger. Keep your little ones on parts of the boat that are farther from the engine, especially in calm waters. And please, please share this information with anyone you know who does. Andy’s mom ended her Facebook post with a plea for you to do just that.

“Don’t let Andy’s death be in vain, ” she says. “Educate yourself, and your friends and family. I do not want anyone else ever to experience what I am going through.

“I’m begging you, please share this!”

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Jenny Rapson

Jenny Rapson is a follower of Christ, a wife and mom of three from Ohio and a freelance writer and editor. You can find her at her blog, Mommin' It Up, or follow her on Twitter.

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