Nicollette's Story

Nicollette's Story

It Can Happen to Anyone

It was a typical Monday afternoon for Donna Lee and her then-19-month-old daughter Nicolette. Donna took her eyes off her daughter for just a moment to get a snack out of the fridge. But when Donna called for Nicolette, she didn’t answer.

Thinking her daughter was playing hide and seek, Donna continued to look around the house until she noticed the dog was outside. Since the dog had been inside, Donna ran and began calling Nicolette’s name. It was then she saw her daughter floating face down in the backyard pool. Donna, who had taken CPR classes, quickly grabbed Nicolette out of the pool and began performing CPR and dialed 911.

Nicolette was blue and unconscious with no pulse. She was lifeless. Nicolette was brought to the emergency room of Phoenix Children's Hospital, non-responsive and on a respirator. “I just remember her being so cold,” said Donna. “I thought I had killed her.”

But less than 20 hours after the near-drowning, Nicolette miraculously rolled over and said “hi” to her mother. She was one of the lucky ones.

Drowning is the second most common cause of injury for children in our state. But even the near-drowning victims often suffer permanent neurological impairment. “When a child goes in the water, what we can do for them afterward depends on how long they were in the water and whether or not someone performed CPR,” said Tiffaney Isaacson, Phoenix Children's water safety coordinator. “There’s no miracle drug. No surgery. The only thing we can really do is prevent it from happening in the first place.”

According to Isaacson, Phoenix has a large number of young families with young children with beautiful, inviting pools in their backyards. These all help to make Phoenix’s drowning rate one of the highest in the nation. “We have a population of people moving in very quickly, and they don’t always realize how serious the problem is, and how quickly it can happen,” said Isaacson. “We need to put the right information in the right hands so we can prevent as many tragedies as possible. If we don’t, it’s a failure on the part of the whole community because we didn’t make the parent aware.”

Making parents and children aware of the dangers of water is the goal of the Phoenix Children’s Drowning Prevention program. Drowning Awareness Month in August and Water Safety Day are part of Phoenix Children's efforts to keep water safety front and center in the minds of adults and children who live here.

Water Safety Day is an educational and interactive day of learning for about 1,300 first graders who attend the event each year. Isaacson said first graders are an ideal age group to attend Water Safety Day because they are still at significant risk for drowning, “but they’re also at that magical age where they really learn the concepts we’re teaching them.”

Of course, reaching the children with the ABCs of Water Safety is only one element of preventing a drowning from happening. Every drowning involves failure of a barrier as well as a lapse of adult supervision. Parents need to understand that they can’t take their eyes off of children around water, not even for a moment, and not only when the child is swimming. In more than 65 percent of child drowning, the kids were wearing street clothes…not bathing suits. “It’s much more typical for a child to slip out a back door or a doggie door and wind up in the pool than it is for them to drown while swimming,” warned Isaacson.

A drowning can happen to anyone at anytime. “People think that since they’re good parents, it won’t happen to them. But loving, intelligent, conscientious parents lose their children to drowning,” said Isaacson. “The impact of that loss is life-long. One minute a child is happy and healthy with their whole life ahead of them. Five minutes later they’re gone forever.”

Thankfully for Donna, Nicolette is very much here. Three years after the incident, Nicolette is an inquisitive and energetic toddler with no impairments because of the near drowning. Donna is an outspoken advocate for water safety and believes all parents should know CPR. More importantly, they should know how to prevent a drowning from occurring in the first place. “I was one of those people who would see a drowning story on television and wonder how people could let that happen. But it can happen to anyone,” said Donna. 

Today Nicolette loves playing with her dog Gordee. She likes airplanes, coloring, and swimming in her backyard pool. “She’s an amazing gift,” Donna said of Nicolette. “God has given her to me twice.”

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