Close call leaves mom thankful for happy ending

By: Nina Lemke, Roseville resident
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I’ll always remember Father’s Day 2003. It was a perfect evening barbecuing steaks with friends and neighbors. We sat in the shade watching our children playing in the sandbox, squirting each other with the hose and romping in the pool. Christopher, our 2-year-old, hadn’t yet learned the meaning of modesty so he was naked, of course, and we had taken his life jacket off for dinner. While the husbands were outside chatting and the kids were playing, my friend Gabby and I went to the kitchen. Christopher was still playing in the sand box. I know he was. Everyone was done swimming but we had left the pool ladder down just in case they needed another dip. One of the kids mentioned we should probably put the ladder up but there were plenty of us watching the pool so no worries, right? In an instant, everything changed. A shout, a splash and a moment of complete and utter confusion; my husband saw a doll on the bottom of the pool, but it wasn’t a doll; it was our baby, Christopher. No, it couldn’t be. We never take our eyes off that child for a minute because he’s fast, curious and blissfully fearless. I will never forget the look on my husband’s face as he dove into the pool to retrieve Christopher floating near the bottom. I can’t erase from my mind the picture of my limp, lifeless son as Gabby began CPR to start his heart and bring him back to life. I will never silence the screaming in my head, believing for a moment that the worst had happened while we were all watching. I will forever see my older son’s shock and horror as he watched his brother’s cold, blue body, laying on the lawn, struggling for breath, for survival. My mind jumped ahead to the worst possible outcome while I swept the food from his mouth; a dead child, an empty bedroom, the extra scooter, hand-me-down clothes with nobody to wear them, what am I going to tell people? It’s amazing how fast your mind can work. By the grace of God, our son is alive and our families were spared a nightmare that every parent fears, that Father’s Day evening. We brought Christopher home from the hospital after a night of observation. A quick nap and he wanted to go swimming. The doctor said he had no memory of the event and would have no lasting damage from the incident. Not so for me, for my husband, our older son and our neighbors. That day will haunt us forever. As the paramedics and ER doctors told me, drownings typically occur at someone else’s house; a neighbor’s house or while visiting grandparents. Drowning is random and silent; there is no flailing and splashing. The child doesn’t scream for help, they just float helplessly to the bottom and run out of breath. You take your eyes off your kids for an instant and it can happen. We all believe that the rules that we set around the swimming pool will protect our kids. Certainly, people whose children drown must be bad parents. I am here to tell you that it doesn’t happen to bad parents, it just happens. Despite your rules, the gate gets left open, the ladder is left down or the telephone rings. Although the paramedics came in just a couple of minutes, CPR, administered by my neighbor, saved my son’s life. It was Gabby’s quick, calm application of this life-saving procedure that brought the breath back to Christopher’s lungs and started his heart pumping once again. Anyone who has a pool or who is regularly around water should be trained in CPR. Not only should you be trained, but you must be prepared, at any moment, to use that training. Life jackets, floating techniques, water-wings and swimming lessons are important tools but when it comes to children, Ms. Toohey and Chief Mikesell’s final statement in the story in the Placer Herald, May 14, should have been the lead off sentence of the article, children are never waterproof. As Christopher prepares to enter third grade in August, I am humbled by what might have been. As summer approaches, I know I will hear drowning stories in the news and grieve for those parents who weren’t as lucky. As one paramedic said to me in the ambulance, “these things usually don’t turn out like this….” It’s inevitable that there will be preventable drowning deaths this summer, but if just one child is saved because we shared this experience, I would be grateful. ~ Nina Lemke, Roseville resident