My Son Drowned: One Mom's Pain and the Danger of Assuming

Posted on 1 May 2014

By: Stephanie McConnell, John Michael's Mom

I am a wife, the mother to five children: Cameron, now 22; Austin and Avery, now 20; Koraleigh, now 8; John Michael, forever 3; and grandmother to 1-year-old Kacelyn. Summer is the time of year when so many of our happiest family memories have been made. Unfortunately, it is also when our lives drastically changed forever.

John Michael loved to help his Papa clean the pool.

On April 30, 2010, I was faced with the realization that no family is immune. When I arrived home from work that fateful day, I was greeted by John Michael running down the hill with a hug, kiss and, “I love you mommy! I’ve missed you!” Little did I know it would be the last sweet embrace I ever got from him. A few hours later, he was found unresponsive in his grandparents’ pool.

On that terrible day, there were many people in our yard. I assumed my children were safe because there were so many people outside to watch them. I thought John Michael was playing with his twin sister and older brother’s girlfriend, and everyone else assumed he was with someone else. I’ll never forget one of my older sons yelling, “Mama, brother’s in the pool!” When I got to the pool, I saw John Michael’s lifeless body. I tried, unsuccessfully, to save him with CPR. The precious little boy I had given life to could not be revived by my breath.

John Michael and Koraleigh celebrated their third birthday, just weeks before the accident.

The emergency room was able to get a heartbeat after about 30 to 45 minutes, and he was life-flighted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. I stayed by his bedside holding his hand, singing him lullabies, reading him stories and praying for a miracle that never came. He never woke up. Four days later, I made the most difficult decision of my life – to remove life support. I held my son’s lifeless body for five hours before he took his last breath.

His twin sister would see him again in his small white casket. Even though she was too young to understand, she stood on a chair, rubbed his ears and said goodbye. I said my final goodbye and laid John Michael to rest in a family plot at Alta Vista Cemetery.

Why am I telling you this story? I want you to realize no family is immune to tragedy, no matter how careful, rich or poor. It can and does happen to the best of families. Please don’t assume your child is safe just because there are a lot of people around. They can slip away unnoticed. Padlock pool gates when no one is swimming. Pay close attention to your children around water. Drowning is a silent killer, and your child could be underwater without making a sound while you’re reading, checking emails or browsing the internet.

"Drowning is a silent killer, and your child could be underwater without making a sound while you're reading, checking emails or browsing the internet."

Teach your children that even though water is fun it can also be dangerous. Be sure family pools have fences with locks children are unable to open. My little man was just trying to help his grandfather “Papa” clean the pool when he managed to unlock the pool gate. I know this because he always watched his Papa clean the pool from outside the fence and would say, “Big boy wanna help, Papa!” The pool net was found in the pool. John Michael had been trying to clean the pool, and the heavy net pulled him in. My big boy’s attempt to help took his life.

If even one reader takes this to heart and is more conscientious around water, this post has served its purpose. My beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed little boy will never hold his twin sister’s hand or grow up to have a family of his own, but hopefully—because of his story—your child will.

Many drowning incidents occur in swimming pools, but lakes, rivers and oceans can also be dangerous. Click here for more water, pool and boating safety tips.

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