It was September 1982. We had gone to my parents’ farm with our children ages 5, 3, 22 months and one month. Kim and I had invited several families to join us on Sunday for apple picking. The weather was unseasonably warm and so the children swam as 22-month-old Nicholas napped. When he got up, we were finishing a picnic lunch on the pool-side terrace and all the children, but for one, were out of the pool. Nicholas joined the other children in their game of tag; he loved “chase games”. Perhaps he slipped as he was running. Perhaps he reached for a toy in the pool. The 12 year old who had stayed in the pool found him at the bottom in the shallow end. Not one of the 8 adults had seen him go in. We desperately tried to revive him. Kim, an ex-Navy diver, who had once resuscitated a drowning victim, tried to bring him back. The nearest country hospital was some distance away; it was quite a while before the ambulance arrived and, when it did, it contained only the most rudimentary equipment. At the hospital, they managed to bring him back sufficiently to warrant air-lifting him to St. Louis Children’s Hospital; there he was put on life support. He never regained consciousness. The “if’s” are endless: If Nicholas had been taught how to roll over and float, how to be visible, providing precious seconds. If we had known about “Water Watcher” badges clearly designating supervision. If we had been better trained in CPR. But no number of “if’s” will bring him back.
We certainly thought about drowning prevention and very much wanted to spare other families a similar tragedy but, with two young children, a newborn and two more children born in quick succession, we were immersed in parenting. Two years ago, however, our son Birch, who was 5 when Nicholas died, left the practice of law and bought a franchise of British Swim School to teach children how to float and how to swim, and to have kids learn water survival and safety. (Katherine, who had been 3 when Nicholas died, had said from the time she could pronounce the word, that she wanted to become a pediatrician; today she is a pediatric hospitalist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital) Birch has been a swimmer all his life and is certified as a SCUBA instructor. Having British Swim School is, for him, an answer to Nicholas. As Kim and I learned about the program, watched how even very young children could learn to roll over and float and as we have become informed about the statistics and realities related to drowning, we have become committed to drowning prevention and awareness. We have established this foundation, Safer Waters in Memory of Nicholas (SWIM-ON). We have joined Families United to Prevent Drowning. We are determined to work to raise awareness and to reduce drowning in the St. Louis metropolitan area. We are grateful to have been given the opportunity to become involved. And we are grateful for Families United to Prevent Drowning.
No more “If’s” and “Not One More”