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Secondary Drowning Signs and Symptoms in Children

1 Mom Is Sharing Her Story About Secondary Drowning to Help Educate Parents

This is Darcy McQueeny's three-and-a-half-year-old son laying unresponsive over six hours after jumping into a pool without a life vest for less than thirty seconds. When he was yanked out of the water, he was completely conscious, though he coughed up a lot of water — if Darcy hadn't followed her instinct to keep an eye on him, he may not have made it.

Secondary drowning occurs when water enters the lungs, and the symptoms, which include fatigue and coughing, may not appear until hours later. Darcy noticed that although her son ate his dinner, he was still coughing and could barely keep his eyes open, so she decided to take him to the emergency room.

While in the hospital, her son spiked a fever and became unresponsive. "Everyone who we met in the PICU remarked at how incredibly lucky he is to be alive. Not only because he didn't drown initially, but because he was at a gigantic risk for secondary drowning," Darcy said in her post to Facebook. Those nurses encouraged her to share her story, so that's exactly what she's doing.


I want people to know that water safety is top priority for most parents. We know not to leave our kids unattended. We know that pools should be gated. We use the flotation devices designed for kids. What most parents don't know is that even after taking precautions, when these accidents happen, kids are still in danger even after being pulled from the water fully conscious. When my son became unresponsive and the monitors were going crazy because he was crashing, I'll never forget the panic of looking at his sweet face and realizing that I could lose him. Had we not been in a hospital, I very well could have. I want people to be aware that even if someone seems OK after an accident in the water, they may not be.

Her son was being watched by two sober adults who pulled him out of the water almost instantly, yet he still experienced complications. Not especially worried because you don't have a pool? Secondary drowning can occur from inhaling water at any time — like while in the bathtub. If your child is displaying any sort of respiratory symptoms up to 24 hours after the incident, don't wait to do something about it.

Secondary drowning can happen to any child, and any parent can experience the panic Darcy felt when she thought she was going to lose her baby — so know the signs and follow your mama instincts when it comes to water safety.

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