Melanie’s son was playing happily when she left him at daycare. Hours later he was fighting for life.

child drowns at childcare

November 9, 2015, began like any other day for Melanie Mitchell and her two-year-old son, Lachlan. Melanie gave Lachlan breakfast, got him ready and dropped him off at the family daycare he attended in Carramar, Perth.

When they arrived, Melanie signed Lachlan in, gave him a kiss goodbye and by the time she left he was happily playing. Daycare was one of Lachlan’s favourite places and he felt entirely comfortable there, which made it easier for Melanie to leave her fun-loving boy in another person’s care.

But this day was one that would go drastically differently than planned. Melanie says it was about 10:30am when she received a call to say something had gone wrong.

“The carer called to say there had been an accident. She was quite hysterical, so it did take a while to get to the point that he’d fallen in the pool.

“She said he’d vomited a couple of times, but I couldn’t get out of her whether or not he was breathing, or how serious the situation was. At that stage I believed he’d fallen in and been taken out but was going to be OK, assuming he’d been supervised at the time and couldn’t have been in there for long.”

Melanie left what she was doing and headed towards the daycare, but halfway there received another call to say Lachlan had been taken by ambulance to hospital, so she turned around and followed.

“I went through the doors and was waiting in line, because again I had no idea how serious the situation was, but they ushered me in quickly.

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“When I got through the emergency-room doors there was a lady waiting there, which was obviously my first indication that things weren’t right. She did her best to prepare me for what I was walking into, but unfortunately there’s no words that could have prepared me for that.

Lachlan was just two years old. Image: supplied.

"Lachlan was lying on the bed, he had heating pads all over his body, tubes in and out of him, they were working on his chest trying to get his heart started, they had the bag on his face breathing for him.

“The doctor came over and told me it had been an hour and a half and Lachlan’s heart hadn’t started, he wasn’t breathing on his own and they believed he’d probably passed away before he got there.

"At that stage I was in pure disbelief and just hoped and wished for a better outcome - I couldn’t accept what he’d just told me.”

A couple of minutes later, Lachlan’s heart started beating which gave Melanie hope that he was going to make a full recovery, but the machines were still breathing for him.

Melanie says the doctors then stabilised Lachlan as best they could to transfer him to Princess Margaret Hospital. “Because of all the machinery needed to keep him stable we weren’t able to go in the ambulance with him so we actually had to drive ourselves to PMH. We spent two days in hospital and still were in complete denial, hoping that it was just going to take time.

“But they did three tests on Lachlan and there was no brain activity across those two days. His organs were starting to shut down and apart from his heart, everything else broke down and there was never a chance to bring him back.”

The night after the accident Lachlan was unhooked from his tubes and monitors and for the first time in two days Melanie and husband Luke were actually able to hold him.

“We held him until his heart stopped beating in our arms. Then we had to wait around for the coroner to get there to ask us various questions, with our son’s body laying lifeless on the bed.

"After that we had to just take the teddy bear he had in the hospital with us and leave him there.”

The creator of the Kids Alive campaign, Laurie Lawrence, shares his pool safety advice. (Post continues below.)

Going home without her beloved son is something Melanie will never forget.

“He was there and then he wasn’t. I’d dropped him off at daycare and planned to come back later in the day to tidy up - having a toddler there were things everywhere, toys everywhere, activities left half done, breakfast dishes - and one of the hardest things for us was coming home to a house full of stuff that he’d left.

“He’d been sitting there playing with stickers in the morning, his toys were still all over the floor, his bed was unmade, his washing was there to be done from the weekend, all reminders that he was just there but he wasn’t coming home.

"I packed his washing up into a moving bag and put it in the spare room - never touched it. His bed I made and left it the way it was two years ago; his sheets are still the ones he woke up in that morning, his toys that he liked to sleep with are still on the bed.”

Melanie and Luke have since had a baby daughter Rosalie, who is starting to now get to the stage where she is ready to play with some of Lachlan’s things.

“She gets to play with some of his toys from when he was a baby and there’s some clothes and things that we’ve been able to hand down. But we’re going into the third year since Lachlan passed away and there’s still stuff I can’t bring myself to go through.

"I want to set up a playroom for Rosalie but all of the toys we have are Lachlan’s and I can’t bring myself to touch his toys, his bed, any of it because it just feels like another way of wiping away his presence in the house.”

Since Lachlan’s death, Melanie has been active in working towards drowning prevention, through her Facebook page Lachlan’s Legacy.

At the recent inquest into her son’s death Melanie called for a ban on pools at family daycare centres. Although Melanie and Luke were concerned about the pool at their son’s daycare they never expected it would take his life.

“Lachlan’s development was behind his peers and he was hypermobile, so we were very careful about the environment we were putting him in. Mainstream daycare hadn’t worked for him so we thought family daycare would be a better fit.

"I’d visited a handful of other daycares and turned them down simply for hazards within the area, whether it be steps because he was uneven on his feet, or climbable objects.

"Obviously when we saw the pool it was one of the first things I asked about. I was assured that it had been inspected that year and had complied - which it had - but more importantly that no child would be outside unsupervised.”

During the recent inquest, it was revealed that the carer took Lachlan outside to play then went to soothe a baby she’d just put down to sleep.

According to Melanie: “A number of things have been said in regard to why Lachlan was outside alone, but it ultimately comes down to the fact that he wasn’t supervised for a reasonable amount of time to be able to gain access to the pool, and for him to not be able to be resuscitated it had to be a substantial amount of time that he was in the pool area. Unfortunately, because nobody was there except for Lachlan, we will never know conclusively how he got in there.”

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Melanie’s hope is that her son’s death will lead to changes in community attitudes that will help to prevent other children from drowning.

“For pool owners, my plea would be that when you’re topping up chemicals and doing your weekly maintenance of your pool also do a safety audit - a visual inspection of the perimeter of the pool - making sure the fencing is intact, the gate is working and there’s nothing that can be pushed up against the fence to climb over.

“Even if you don’t have children, you need to be sure that no child entering your yard can access the pool easily, whether it’s neighbourhood children, grandchildren, friends or visitors.

"I’d really like to see a shift in the attitude in the community wanting to be a part of drowning prevention rather than looking for someone to blame.”

One issue Melanie is keen to address is that of temporary and portable pools.

“If I could change one thing about the community perception of those pools it is the belief that they’re a toy. These pools are more dangerous than a below-ground pool.

“I would like people to take all the necessary precautions they would with a below ground pool with these temporary pools; that is, make sure that kids are supervised at all times, that if it’s a pool you leave filled up for an extended period that you have appropriate fencing, that kids are not able to access it unless they’re supervised.

"Don’t wait for legislation or councils to say that you have to, but just to keep it safe for everybody.

“I’d like to see people come together a bit more to make more of an impact on drowning prevention. Over the last ten years thousands of children in Australia have been affected by some sort of drowning incident, whether it be non-fatal or fatal.

“That’s thousands of families traumatised by something that’s easily preventable. At the end of the day, there’s no bigger grief, there’s no bigger consequence than losing a child and you live it every day.

“It’s something that affects every life that child has touched, whether that be the person that cuts their hair, the postie or friends, daycarers, other families in the daycare or people in your neighbourhood. It’s not something that just happens in an instant, it’s something that people live with for years – and for the family, forever.”

This article originally appeared on the Royal Life Saving Western Australia website and was republished here with full permission.

For more, visit Melanie's Lachlan's Legacy Facebook page.

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