On Monday, July 14, 2014, my daughter almost drowned.
That evening, we were at our backyard neighbors’ house for a BBQ and swimming. Our then 6-year-old twin boys knew how to swim and had one season of swim team under their belts. Our then 3-year-old daughter, Anneliese, loved the water but was armed with a Puddle Jumper any time we were around the water, even when she was not swimming. Anneliese spent most of the evening swimming within arms’ reach of an adult, and practiced leaving the steps for a moment and then getting back. This was the first time she displayed that type of confidence in the water. She was very proud and kept saying, “Look at me!”
Around 8:15 p.m., Isla, my then 18-month-old, started to get cranky so I left to put her to bed. We had not had dessert yet and I told my husband, David, to swim a little more, have dessert and I would come back to walk them home.
While I was gone, my family continued to swim. Anneliese needed to go to the bathroom so David removed her Puddle Jumper. He took Anneliese inside to the bathroom, while our male neighbor stayed outside with the other four kids, all of whom could swim. When David came back out, one of the twins was getting in trouble for jumping too close to the wall. Anneliese was still at David’s side when he warned our son about his safety. In the time it took for David to look at a photo of what happened to our neighbor’s child when he jumped too close to the pool edge (30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds?), Anneliese had slipped away into the water. My female neighbor, who had been inside the house cleaning up, was the first to see Anneliese floating face down in the pool near the steps.
While this was happening on the other side of the fence, I heard a scream from the backyard. The second scream I heard was David’s. I ran out across the backyard fully expecting to see one of our boys with a head injury. When I looked over the fence, I saw Anneliese lying motionless on the deck.
I immediately jumped over the fence and rushed to her. She was completely blue and was not breathing. Almost 15 years of required CPR training (lifeguard, group exercise instructor) and I still felt like I didn’t know exactly what to do. I started CPR/ABC’s and counting chest compressions. When I got to 25, Anneliese vomited water and more. She began to suck the air in through strong, loud wheezes, but there was no movement, no coughing, no crying, which are what I expected to see. It was not the kind of resuscitation I had seen on TV.
Shortly after (though it felt like a long time), a constable arrived first to the scene, followed by the ambulance. Memorial Hermann Life Flight® transported Anneliese to Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute. Her breathing deteriorated inflight and when we arrived at Memorial Hermann she was sedated and intubated. She was on the breathing machine until 6 a.m. the following morning. After she came off intubation, we had to wait to see if her breathing would improve or if we would need to put her back on the machine. We also had to wait to learn if there was any neurological damage. We did not know how long she had gone without oxygen (combined time under water and after being pulled out). Also, the doctors suspected that she may have had a couple of seizures.
The Memorial Hermann Trauma and Pediatric ICU medical teams were stellar at every step of her care. They were upfront with us about what was being done, what needed to be done and what the next steps might be, given her condition. They were always calm and collected. They were awesome.
During the first 24 hours after Anneliese woke up, it was hard to tell how she was or if she was still “herself.” Wednesday afternoon, for a bit, she did not recognize me. When we asked her who I was, she just shrugged her shoulders. With each waking session there were moments of Anneliese being Anneliese and moments of “OMG what is wrong?” The Child Life specialists were exceptional. These interactions with Child Life were some of the first opportunities to see Anneliese “wake up.” They really helped our family to understand and be patient with her recovery.
When we told Anneliese she was in the hospital, we asked her if she knew why. She responded point blank: “I went in the water without my floatie.”
On Friday, July 18, our first full day at home, David asked me how I was doing. For a moment, I thought, absolutely fine. Anneliese is perfectly fine. I had a nightmare, a mother’s worst nightmare, for almost three days. And then I woke up. We sang and we danced. Everyone got on everyone else’s nerves. Toys were stolen and recovered. Cookies were eaten. We went to the grocery store. We watched a movie. We brushed our teeth. She kissed me goodnight. She told me she loved me. I sat in the rocking chair to wait for her slumber as I had almost every night before Monday, July 14. Everything was normal. Everything was perfect.
We almost lost our daughter that night. We are so thankful that Memorial Hermann’s angels were there to lift up our baby girl. Today she is in kindergarten. She is an amazing storyteller, can do a perfect cartwheel and, in May, will participate in her first triathlon. She has no neurological deficits. We celebrate the beauty of her smile and the rush of her laughter on a daily basis.
The Nuño family shared their story to raise awareness about water safety as well as the importance of learning CPR.
Learn more on Saturday, April 1, at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital’s April Pools Day. The event, scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon in the hospital’s East Tower, is designed to prevent drownings by inspiring young children to take water safety seriously. Both children and adults will learn about the hazards associated with water and how to deal with them safely. Click here to register for the free event.