kids

It took mere seconds. Belinda found her two-year-old twins face down in the family pool.

With Christmas behind us, and the weather behaving itself, we have slipped into summer holidays mode – and the height of the swimming pool season.

As the temperatures soar we will gather around the pool like animals around a waterhole, while our young splash about in the water like crocodiles full of smiles and laughter. However, despite the family pool being the epitome of fun – kids and pools can be a deadly cocktail and is no place to let your guard down – not even for a matter of seconds.

Already this season, Royal Life Saving NSW Operations Manager Michael Ilinsky says: “In the past 10 days we have witnessed a ‘typhoon’ of pool deaths with four children under the age of four drowning in backyard pools in NSW alone.

Since December 19, there have been 18 water deaths in the state.

“Almost half of the national drowning figure in the last 12 months. This is a frightening commencement to the year, and devastating for families and communities,” he says. With such a bad start to the year, Ilinsky says, “We are concerned that families don’t think it can happen to them. But drowning can happen to anyone – rich, poor, friends, neighbours – it doesn’t discriminate.”

"Despite the shouting and arm waving seen in the movies, these seconds are actually silent." Image via iStock.

As the social media trolls spit the venom of blame at soul-destroyed parents, the human fact is that it can take only 20 seconds for a child to drown. Yes, 20 seconds. And despite the shouting and arm waving seen in the movies, these seconds are actually silent.

Ilinsky explains: “A drowning child doesn’t make a noise. They are usually vertical and often having fallen in, are bearing the weight of clothing. They are disorientated, and unable to splash or scream.”

One person who knows how quickly events can turn to tragedy is mum Belinda Hedley from Newcastle, NSW, and ambassador for Royal Life Saving.

Following her experience, she has found the recent deaths exceptionally difficult. “I want to tell my story to get the message out to as many people as possible that if you have a pool you have to watch your children all the time.”

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Hedley emotionally recounts her experience in 2007, when her twin boys Braith and Seth were aged two and a half. They were all enjoying themselves at a family gathering, with the parents and grandparents taking it in turns to watch the kids in the backyard.

“It happened within seconds as our backs were turned."  Pictured: Braith and Seth. Image supplied.

“It happened within seconds as our backs were turned. One moment all the little kids were zipped up on the trampoline, the next they had slipped past and got into the pool area through what turned out to be a faulty latch. The twins jumped in fully clothed," she says.

Although only seconds had passed when they realised Hedley and her husband saw what no parent should ever have to see. Their babies face down, floating alongside each other.

“There had been no gate noise, no splashing, no screaming, just silence,” she says.

“At first I froze. My husband jumped into the pool and my sister helped drag them out onto the concrete. Their bodies were blue and unresponsive,” she says. “Once they landed on the concrete nothing was going to stop me from getting them back and my husband and I started CPR.”

Having worked in the mining industry both Hedley and her husband, had learnt CPR through work.

“It was horrific, but we just did it [CPR] and kept going. I wasn’t going to let them go. It was the longest five minutes of my life, but there were glimmers of hope, when they bought up water, started gasping for air and finally started to cry.”

Belinda and Shaun Hedley with their twins, Braith and Seth, and three other children Shania, Taye and Zane. Image: supplied.
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Hedley knows if they’d waited until the ambulance arrived, their twins wouldn’t be alive today and strongly advises anyone with a pool, to learn CPR: “With drowning, every second counts,” she says.

With so many grandparents caring for children, Ilinsky says to educate grandparents too in pool safety and CPR. “Make sure gates are always secure and latch every time, and that there aren’t any chairs or pot plants that kids can use to climb over fencing. Watch out for eskis, kids pools and buckets of water – toddlers can drown in just a couple of centimetres of water.”

As to the twins, Hedley feels very lucky that her children survived. However, it has been a long and complicated journey. “Because of the accident, the twins have an acquired brain injury. They have severe executive functioning disorder and no recall memory,” she tells us.

“For the first few years, we couldn’t go out in public. They couldn’t handle noise or crowds. I also had to go into school with them until year three until we could get a carer. Our biggest break though was four years ago when we found out that they had the recall memory issue. It changed our lives.

"They’re doing really well at school now." Pictured: Braith and Seth. Image supplied.
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"Before we’d ask them to put their shoes on, they’d walk two paces, and forget what they were doing. We then realised they learned visually, so we started to use images of say a boy putting their shoes on, and it worked.”

Hedley says they’re doing really well at school now. Having turned 12, they are about to start a mainstream secondary school without a carer.

“It is something we never thought would happen. It’s such a great achievement,” she says.

“It took a lot of years to get them to where they are now, but it was well worth it, and we’re functioning really well as a family. To us they are normal 12 year old boys, and any issues are just part of our normal life. We hope they’ll grow into fine young adults and will live a normal happy life. We are very blessed that they are here and our family is whole.”

According to Royal Life Saving Australia's Michael Ilinsky: “Each year, on average 16 children under the age of five will drown.”

What people don’t realise, Ilinsky adds, “is that for every child that drowns, there are 10 non fatal drownings. One in ten of those will have moderate to severe neurological injuries that require life time support.”

Ilinsky advises parents be at arms reach of children under five at all times. For over fives that can swim, he says to sit on the pool side but actively supervise at all times – and leave those devices behind.

“Enjoy the uninterrupted play time with your children.” he advises. “Importantly, avoid all distractions whether it’s answering the door, sending a text, checking the oven, changing a nappy.”

Be organised too he warns.

“Bring your towels, water and suncream to the pool side. And if you really need to do something, get the kids out and take them with you,” he says.

“Don’t what ever you do leave children under the supervision of an older child, even for a moment. I’ve seen the devastating effects it can have. No child should be given that responsibility.”

To put a stop to the loss of life through backyard pool drowning, Master Chef’s Matt Preston and Royal Life Saving has launched Worlds Most Costly, a campaign to remind parents to keep watch no matter what this summer.

 Always actively supervise kids when using the household pool:

 Be Prepared Always make sure you have everything ready when going swimming e.g. towels, goggles, dry clothes, drinking water.

Be Close Always be within arms reach of your child/children.

All Of Your Attention Focus all of your attention on your child/children and watch, talk and play with them when they are in the water.

All Of The Time Never leave your child alone in the water, nor should they be left in the care of an older child.

For more safety tips see the Royal Life Savings Keep Watch program

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