Last week I read this article from Parents Magazine about the tragic story of Frankie Delgado III, a four-year old from Texas who passed away from an extremely rare phenomenon called “Dry Drowning.”
What is Dry Drowning?
Dry Drowning is when a person inhales a small amount of water which causes their airway to spasm and eventually close, causing the person to suffocate and effectively drown. What’s scary about this is that it doesn’t necessarily happen as soon as the person gets out of the water – it could be hours or even days before they show any signs of distress. In Frankie’s case, he died a week after he went swimming.
I had never heard of Dry Drowning before that day and normally, I wouldn’t over think something this rare (according to WebMD, Dry Drowning only accounts for 1% of all drownings). However, this article happened to scare this crap out of me.
Here’s the backstory: my son LOVES the water. I mean, he looks forward to bath time every night (which he calls “bubbles” because of the bubble bath). He loves the water so much that my wife signed him up for swim classes at the local YMCA.
In that week’s class, which took place a few days before I read the article, we learned how to safely dunk our kids under the water briefly to get them used to being submerged. He looked like he was having fun, my wife and I were having fun, everything seemed great.
Within the next two days, our son had developed a pretty nasty cough and sounded wheezy. He’s 16 months old, coughs and runny noses are as common as sunrise and sunset, so I didn’t think too much of it, we decided to wait a couple of days to see if it cleared up.
Fast forward to Friday: my wife was on her way to take our son to the doctor for a follow-up. She’d taken him the day before and the doctor prescribed some medication, but that night as she was nursing him to sleep he threw up, so she wanted to double check.
I was at work when I read the article. As I began to read off the symptoms of Dry Drowning my heart began to thump louder and faster than it had in a very long time.
What are the symptoms of Dry Drowning?
The symptoms of Dry Drowning include, coughing, labored breathing, sleepiness, vomiting, and change in behavior.
I began going down the checklist. Was he coughing? Yes. Was his breathing labored? Perhaps, he did sound wheezy. Was he more tired than usual? Maybe? Was he vomiting? Yes. Was there a change in behavior? I have no idea! At that point I was double and triple guessing every whine, laugh, grunt, and cry he’d taken throughout the past week.
I anxiously texted my wife, knowing she’d be in the appointment at that point, making sure she told his doctor about swim class. After the appointment, she called me and the doctor assured her that our son wasn’t drowning, dry or otherwise. Instead, he had developed croup, a common viral infection which, unnervingly, has very similar symptoms to Dry Drowning – swollen vocal cords, causing narrow airways, coughing, difficulty breathing …
Even with that diagnosis, I didn’t sleep well the next night – every movement, every cough, and every whimper that came from his crib forced my eyes wide open and my heart to beat just a little bit faster.
Now, after a few days of medication, our son is back to his normal bath-loving self. Tonight, as he was splashing around with his bubbles and bath toys, I couldn’t help but think about the loss the Delgado family must be feeling.
There are no words that I, a stranger on the other side of the country, could say to possibly comfort them, but, perhaps it might comfort them to know that their story educated me and inspired me to pass along whatever knowledge I can find on the subject to hopefully prevent this tragedy from happening again.
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What to do if you suspect Dry Drowning
If you suspect your child may have inhaled water and could be suffering from the symptoms of Dry Drowning, the first thing you should do is call your pediatrician. He will be able to advise you on your next course of action, which could involve going to your primary care physician, the emergency room, or an urgent care center.
Of course, if your child is having difficulty breathing, the first thing you should do is call 911.
How can I prevent Dry Drowning?
Swim Lessons: Allowing your children to learn and get comfortable around water is an important first step to preventing any sort of submersion injuries.
Proper Supervision: When you take your children swimming, make sure you or another trained adult, like a lifeguard, is present and able to effectively monitor your children. Going to pool or lake earlier in the morning usually means there will be fewer people, which will make supervision easier.
Enforce Safety Measures: Whether you’re going to the lake or the community pool, safety should take priority. If your child requires floatation equipment make sure you have it and they use it. If you’re at a pool, make sure it is properly fenced off to prevent wandering children from falling in. Lastly, make sure to empty the tub, drain the kiddy pool, and get rid of any standing water your child may find himself in, it doesn’t take a lot of water to create a big problem.