A Lancaster, California, mom has taken to Facebook to spread an important message to anyone and everyone who will listen: Dry drowning is real — and it can happen more easily than you think. On Aug. 14, Darcy McQueeney's son nearly dry drowned in the family pool. Little Ezra had slipped underwater for less than a minute — as little as 30 seconds, McQueeney estimates. But even mere seconds of taking on water can be devastating to the body; especially when the swimmer is just three-and-a-half years old. The shock of the accident, coupled with the knowledge that most parents are unaware of the risks, compelled McQueeney to turn her family's near-tragedy into a warning for others. The following day, McQueeney shared a photo of Ezra's recovering in the hospital — one single snapshot that's since served as a powerful eye-opener for thousands.
To date, the photo of Ezra — which shows him lying in a hospital bed with all sorts of tubes and machines hooked up to him — has been shared over 86,000 times. McQueeney's hope is that it reaches as many people as possible. In her Facebook post, the mom wrote:
Everyone who we met in the PICU remarked at how incredibly lucky he is to be alive. Not only because he didn't drown initially, but because he was at a gigantic risk for secondary drowning. Despite him being able to eat and talk and seeming like he was ok after the incident, he was NOT ok.
Unsurprisingly, McQueeney's emotional story garnered dozens of emotional responses, with comments flooding in from near and far. "Thank you for sharing this! This brings some much needed awareness to the matter. Big hug to you mama!" wrote Facebook user Rachel Ivison. Meanwhile, Jennifer Robinson shared, "A very dear friend's 3-year-old nephew drowned this summer. Water safety is not a joke!" Dozens of others chimed in, too, mostly with words of comfort, and a note of how happy they were that McQueeney's little boy was OK.
It's true — if there is one bit of solace to take away here, it's this: Ezra survived, thanks to the quick-thinking of several adults standing nearby. Sadly, though, many kids and adults across the U.S. aren't so lucky each year. In fact, 10 people die each day from drowning-related deaths, according to the CDC — and of those 10, at least two are children under 14. Luckily, though, at least one study has shown that the rate of drowning deaths overall for children have been steadily declining.
But the scary truth of it is, most people don't even know what dry drowning is, let alone how to prevent it. There's also the understandable confusion over how exactly dry drowning differs from actual drowning. For the record, the basic distinction is this: Dry drowning, or secondary drowning, is when a person takes too much water in through their airways, but it doesn't quite reach the lungs. This later causes the vocal chords to spasm, which can cause the airways to completely close. Drowning, on the other hand, is when too much water gets in and reaches the lungs — this has more immediate respiratory effects, and more often leads to death.
Here are five things to know in order to make sure it doesn't happen to you or someone you love.
1. Never Leave Your Child Unattended Near Water
This one may sound like a no-brainer, but when it comes to curious toddlers and other young kids who haven't yet learned how to swim, it's not always the easiest thing to keep watch every single second. Still, as McQueeney warned in her post, turning your back for even a second can have its consequences. The mom-of-two told Yahoo! Parenting that Ezra had originally been safely swimming with his floaties on in the pool before he'd gotten out of the water and taken them off. Though another adult was watching him, their back was turned momentarily to grab him a towel when the toddler suddenly jumped back in — this time, without his floaties on.
Do your best to always keep your child within arm's reach, or have another adult you trust take over when you need a break.
2. Dry Drowning Doesn't Just Happen At The Pool
While we typically associate drowning accidents with happening at the pool, or some other outdoor body of water, the reality is, they can happen pretty much anywhere — which is why it's especially important to keep a watchful eye at bath time, and never leave buckets of water unattended. Even choking on a bit of water and having it go down the wrong pipe is a form of drowning, believe it or not.
3. Just Because Your Child Seems OK Initially, It Doesn't Mean They Are
As McQueeney's post urges, parents should consider seeking medical attention ASAP if their child has inhaled water or was submerged for any length of time. "Even if they are acting OK after near drowning, please take them to the hospital," McQueeney wrote. "What if we had assumed he was ok and put him to bed? I don't know how to stress this enough."
Some of the more subtle signs can include extreme tiredness and lack of awareness.
4. The Obvious Signs Can Start Hours Afterwards
The scariest part about secondary drowning is that it doesn't always show obvious signs right away. In little Ezra's case, McQueeney said he seemed fine until hours after the incident. "Suddenly, he just changed," she told Yahoo! Parenting. "His whole body changed — his eyes glazed over, his hands started twitching. He was crashing."
According to Dr. Ray Pitetti, associate chief of the division of pediatric medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, parents should watch out for excessive coughing and trouble breathing, as well as changes in a child's behavior. "If a kid chokes or sputters after going under water but seems fine, he doesn't need to go to the hospital," Pitetti recently told Today Parents. "But if several hours later he starts breathing faster and is finding it harder to breathe and starts coughing a lot, then you want to bring him in."
5. Don't Second-Guess Yourself
If your child seems off after taking in some water at the pool, the worst thing you can do is not act on your instincts. "I was afraid to be the mom who rushes to the ER for no reason," McQueeney admitted to Yahoo! Parenting. "But imagine if I had been by myself and he was going without oxygen for a long time as I was waiting for an ambulance? There’s a lot of ways this could have gone really wrong."
If you suspect something's not quite right with your child after they've come into contact with water, take McQueeney's advice and trust your gut — it can't possibly steer you wrong.