My Daughter Drowned Surrounded by Adults: How it Happened to Us

Reviewed in August 2022

By: Melissa Gibson; this piece originally appeared on The Freckled Mommy

I am a photographer, wife and mother to four daughters: Emily, 16; Allison, 13; Caroline, 11; and Josie, 3.

Last August, we found our then 2-year-old daughter, Josie, unconscious in my in-laws’ pool. It was my father-in-law’s 75th birthday, and we were there to swim, eat and celebrate him.

When we arrived, the girls immediately wanted to get in the pool. We applied sunscreen, put on Josie’s puddle jumper, laid out towels and watched them climb into the pool. They swam for a good while and were having the best time—giggling and happy it was such a beautiful day. Josie was in and out of the pool like a typical toddler. I followed her around everywhere as she explored the yard in between swims, looking at butterflies and Nana’s flowers.

After a while, we all headed inside to eat. Josie and one of her sisters were lying on the living room floor in their swimsuits watching “Toy Story 3.” I was constantly aware of where she was; every few minutes I would call out for her, and I kept my eye on the back door.

I had taken off her floaty so she could eat.

I remember seeing my husband outside finishing up at the grill.

I remember getting my plate ready—fajitas, rice and chips.

I remember looking over to the living room and seeing the empty floor.

I remember putting my plate down on the table.

I remember walking to the door and asking my husband, “Where’s Josie?”

I remember in that very moment I knew something was wrong.

I looked to the pool, and I saw her. Floating. Face down. On her little belly.

I remember my husband jumping into the pool and carrying her out.

I will never forget this moment. The look on her face. Her gray skin. Her blue lips. Eyes rolled back.

I remember thinking, “I don’t know how to save her. Why don’t I know how to save her?"

Josie starts to cough, spitting up water in between her tears. Someone calls 911 and the ambulance arrives. We head to the closest ER where they perform a breathing treatment and an X-ray.

The X-ray shows fluid in one of Josie’s lungs, and we prepare for transport to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Once we arrive, we wait less than five minutes for a room. A nurse lets our family in and offers Josie a popsicle while they change her into a tiny hospital gown and take her for another X-ray.

After what feels like hours, the doctor comes in and says, “The X-ray of her lungs is absolutely pristine. You are going home.”

We aren’t sure how any of this happened. We still have so many questions, and we probably always will. How did she get outside? How long was she in the water? How did I get her to come back to me? How was her lung showing water and only hours later look “pristine?” Was she calling for me in the water? Did she walk in? Did she fall in? How could this happen to us when we are so cautious?

A few months after the accident, we enrolled Josie in swim lessons. In spite of initial fear and battles with the water, Josie is now swimming with confidence. She went from being frozen in fear to swimming with confidence. Seeing her transformation over the past seven months is what’s given us the courage to tell this story. If it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone. This summer, keep your children within Arm’s Reach. Be equipped and ready by knowing CPR.

Josie Swimming

Our Strong4Life child advocacy team has created a wealth of resources to help parents keep kids safe all year long. Click here for tips for preventing drowning at any age.