‘I ran to the laundry room. Something told me to put my hands in the washing machine. I resisted. No way. Are you kidding me? Of course he is not in the washing machine.’: Infant son dies from drowning in washing machine

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“Ollie woke up at 6:30 a.m. and was excited to start a new day. After we said goodbye to daddy, he and I got dressed and started cleaning the house. He was my little buddy and it was just the two of us home all day. Washing your sheets is a normal thing to do, right? I had a top loading washer and always let Ollie help me throw a few items in – don’t most moms let their kids help? He loved helping me and it made both of us smile as we carefully put each item in and spent quality time together.

It may sound nonsignificant and simple, but I often remember holding him in my arms and tenderly showing him how the washer worked. Something I will never regret is being very present in my day to day life with Ollie. We finished putting the sheets in and we both left the tiny laundry room together. I went to the living room about 15 feet away to read an article telling me how big my growing baby was. I didn’t even sit down, I stood skimming through 1 paragraph and noticed I couldn’t hear any singing or any sweet noises.

Courtesy of Tiffany Hebb

When I couldn’t hear him, I instantly had a sense of panic fill my entire body, but it was just a quick feeling of panic I knew would soon leave once I found him. It truly was just an instant. I could hear or see him from almost any point in the home because it was only 1500 sq ft.  But not this one time. I truly had never once not known where my son was, and I say that with ultimate confidence.

That tragic day at 10:20 a.m. I called his name again and again. No answer. Silence. Nothing. The air began to be very thick and still. I began to worry just a bit more. I ran quickly into the kitchen. I couldn’t see him anywhere. I couldn’t hear any noises in the house, not even that stupid washer running. My first thought was, he went outside. I ran to the back sliding glass door which was 50 ft. away, it had been such a short amount of time that if he went outside he would be just at the door. I would have seen him opening it. Nothing. Silence. My heart jumped into my throat. A cold stillness crept over the air. My heart was beginning to beat so loudly; it was the only noise in the house.

‘Oh God please help me,’ I began to repeat over and over. The next few minutes moved in slow motion.

Courtesy of Tiffany Hebb

I began calling his name very loudly. ‘Ollie, Ollie, Ollie where are you?’ I began yelling it like I had never yelled his name before. Panic set in deep inside my chest. Every parent who has let their children out of their site for a second knows this awful feeling, then times that by 500. I looked up the stairs which were directly across from the laundry room, I didn’t see him and I knew again it had been such a short amount of time I would have seen him mid-climb. I instantly ran to the laundry room. I quickly looked behind the door. Where on earth could he be? All the outside doors in the house were locked, we always kept all the bathroom and bedroom doors closed and all the toilet seats were closed. No Ollie anywhere. Panic, fear and anxiety overtook my entire body thinking of where Ollie could be. I was so horrified by this time.

I began to cry and scream for him. I screamed so loud, my soul was crying for my baby boy to answer me. Still silence. Nothing. No noise. Just pure panic. Complete silence filled my ears, other than the loud beats of my worried heart. My yelling began to get louder and more intense. I ran around the tiny home all within probably 30 seconds. I then ran back into the laundry room. This was the only place he could be, the lid was now open and the washer had since stopped. I stood there looking at the water in shock. Something told me to put my hands in the washing machine. I resisted. No way. Are you kidding me? Of course he is not in the washing machine, what a weird thought to even be considering. But I knew I had checked the entire house, and I knew he couldn’t have gone outside that quickly.

I fought against this feeling for a good second. (It is so interesting looking back on this trauma, I feel like my spirit knew I would find him in there before I reached my hands in). I finally built up courage and when I say courage, oh my goodness, I mean courage like nothing from this earth, I know I had some serious assistance from on high. I was preparing myself to find his body. It was a weird experience in my head, my conscious and subconscious were fighting beyond comprehension against one another. I am almost certain someone was standing behind me and helped me pick my hands up and guide them into the cold water… horror, panic, disbelief, and shock all engulfed my being in that moment. I wanted to pass out.

My heart instantly broke into a million pieces and I think it really shattered completely. It took everything I had to not pass out and crawl into a tiny hole and die. When I felt his precious, precious body inside the cold water, words do not even describe the horror, fear and helplessness I felt as I tried to pull my sweet Ollie’s lifeless body out of the washing machine. How could this have happened with me 15 feet away – in the same house, and only 1 or 2 minutes had passed since I last saw him by my side? I honestly heard nothing. My hands were inside the washing machine trying to dislodge Ollie’s tiny body and my pregnant tummy was getting in the way. Ollie looked lifeless already. Ollie was not breathing at this point. I was so confused – I didn’t understand how he got in there. I didn’t know how to get him out but I knew I had to act fast. I had never seen a person unconscious and I never thought I would witness this horror with my own precious child. So unreal. I was in pure, cold shock and autopilot took over.

I could not pull his body out alone. It was so intense, unwanted and like nothing I had ever experienced before. The trauma hits you in the face like a ton of bricks, and you almost become paralyzed from the shallow breathing you are experiencing. I propped his head up ever so gently on the side of the washing machine. I knew the faster I got him out the faster I could perform CPR. I then ran across the street to my neighbor’s so she could help me while professional help was on the way.

Courtesy of Tiffany Hebb

My husband Chris later told me in lifeguard training, it’s very crucial in drowning victims to at least give a rescue breath, something I wish I had known. But honestly I don’t think I could have reached his mouth with my fat tummy in the way. I have been current with my CPR training since 2008 but knew nothing about a drowning victim. I left Ollie’s side and began running and shouting across the street. I think the entire block heard my awful blood curdling wails. I yelled for someone to call 911 because Ollie had fallen into the washing machine and was stuck. My neighbor Tiffany came running. Nothing was said, and nothing needed to be. She felt my heart and my horror.

We worked together to dislodge his tiny body and were unsure how to get him out but we knew we had to act quickly because time was not on our side at this point. It began to be too much for me to yank on his fragile body. Tiffany told me to walk out of the room for a minute, then she basically pulled his body free. My heart hurt so bad that I thought it literally ripped out of my chest and fell to the floor as I watched her dislodge him. She said she was willing to do what it took to get him out of there. She scooped his lifeless, limp body gently over to the living room. By this time we had quite a crowd of neighbors flooding into our house and our sweet neighbors began CPR on this little boy whom they had only met a handful of times. Such a heroic thing for them to do and I know they would do it again. They later told me I was inconsolable and kept screaming out. I know I was loudly wailing as a mother would do as she looks on her dying, lifeless child. I just kept screaming, ‘It has been way too long, he needs to breathe!’

I immediately knew I needed to call Chris. I couldn’t remember his number or find his name in my phone. The shock and shallow breathing cause you to not think clearly in situations like this. I finally got it together and remember Chris specifically telling me just the night before, if I ever needed to reach him in an emergency to call his special work phone. I texted him the text I never ever wanted to text to anyone. I had to get his attention quickly and I needed him to understand the severity. I reluctantly and sadly texted him, ‘OLLIE IS DEAD. 911. COME HOME.’ This text broke my heart even more.

Chris cherished his little boy so much and was such an attentive daddy. Chris was so happy to finally be a dad and took such tender care of Ollie showing him the wonders of nature. I knew this text was instantly going to crush his heart. After I had texted Chris, I went over to Ollie’s side and held his hand. It is so devastating and unfair to want something more than your own life and not be able to obtain it. I felt so unimaginably helpless. So alone. So abandoned. I wanted to give Ollie my life, and I would have in a second. The firefighters and ambulance showed up and quickly did chest compressions for 6-7 minutes and within a few minutes Ollie was hooked up to a monitor, had IV’s in his legs, intubated and was given epinephrine all on my living room floor. While kneeling down by Ollie’s side holding his fat toddler boy hand, I pleaded with him to come back and told him, ‘Momma needs you! I am so terribly sorry!’ I sobbed and I sobbed some more. I was so deeply sorry and I didn’t have a good feeling about the outcome. I knew this moment would change my entire life and the life of those that loved sweet Ollie. I was in shock. I was weeping and wailing like I had never seen anyone do before, I had only read about this kind of grief and agony and now I was experiencing it firsthand.

Courtesy of Tiffany Hebb

I had never been involved in anything so intense and critical in my life. I think I experienced near dead feelings, the heart almost stopping and feeling so much pressure that it wouldn’t beat, the brain becoming black and dark, and the body working in third person. The pain was agonizing and awful. I truly believe we don’t have the appropriate words to describe this pain, but if you have watched your child die a horrible death, then you know this pain I talk of. My precious baby boy was dead, or dying. I saw it all and it was all out of my control. How could this moment in time really be taking place? This only happens to someone else. Ollie was slipping away and I knew it. I wanted him to open his eyes and tell me everything would be okay. I was not prepared for this moment in time… or was I?

Ollie was transported to the hospital where we watched and prayed for a miracle. After 24 hours (legally hospitals are obligated to try and keep you alive for 24 hours) we were physically and emotionally exhausted. That moment was a bittersweet moment in our reality. I was so tired and haggard at this point; we all were.  I wanted it all to be over, but also knew if we took Ollie off life support, we would have to say an earthly goodbye and I just wasn’t ready to let him go. Our family said a prayer and at the end of the prayer we all knew it was time to take Ollie off life support. It was not even a question to keep him on life support while having 0% brain activity and no signs of improvement in 24 hours.

Courtesy of Tiffany Hebb

It was now 10:30 a.m. the next morning and it seemed as if time had stood still. The entire last night was time cherished but it was also a blur of overwhelming emotions, and pure devastation. It was now that crucial moment in time we had all been dreading. It was time to un-hook Ollie. The nurse couldn’t have been any sweeter as she slowly and gently unhooked Ollie from those nasty tubes binding him to the bed. She tenderly and with tears in her eyes asked if I wanted to hold him.  I couldn’t believe after 24 exhausting hours that I was actually allowed to hold my son’s body. Never in my life had I been kept from doing something with my child I had wanted to do so badly. This moment was very special for me and I knew it would be a last for Ollie and I on this earth. The pain almost made me lose my breath as I watched my little boy slipping away.

I knew I was going to live for the baby growing inside of me, and if it weren’t for her special spirit, I might have considered taking my own life. Ollie’s body was a bit stiff and limp as I held him on top of a pillow. For some reason I could not cuddle him in, I guess due to the heaviness and stiffness of the body. I sobbed and sobbed as I knew this would be the last moments in life I would rock him and feel his warm body pressed up against mine.  My body was so worn out and so was his from the fighting we had just done. The tears kept flowing down my face as I rocked my big baby boy, one.last.time.

For those long but tender hours passing him around, we all sobbed and honestly couldn’t believe we were really doing this. Saying our goodbyes so soon. We couldn’t accept that we were being a part of something so awful. The doctors said Ollie had a very strong heart and that’s what kept him hanging on for so long. He gargled and gasped for 6 excruciating but precious earthly hours. To watch such a thing again has no words in the language to describe it appropriately.

Ollie’s body began to get heavier and heavier as the breath slowed and took fewer and fewer breaths. Every breath we restlessly awaited to be his last and looked on with great sorrow in our hearts. It was not a relaxing time by any means, our bodies were tense, worn out and grief struck. Ollie had fought a tremendous fight and stayed warm so we could all have the pleasure of holding him while alive. He took his last breath in my arms and I remember letting out a sigh of relief but then my heart shattered so deeply. His body became cold and rigor mortis had set in and his spirit left completely. He was no longer inside his body and you could see the life slip away and we all knew Ollie had returned to the father that gave him life. This moment I will never forget and hold close to my heart. It was the most spiritual experience mixed with the most devastating. So bittersweet.

Courtesy of Tiffany Hebb

It’s been 7 years since Ollie Kai Hebb passed on from this life and there is not a day that goes by that our family doesn’t talk about him and include him in our life. Last year sweet Ollie sent us a baby boy on his angel day, March 24. Miracles do exist! Personally, the thing that’s helped me most is trying to heal in a healthy manner and in a holistic (body mind and spirit connected) way. There are very ugly, dark days, but they have become less frequent as the years pass by. I am open, real and raw and I let my grief in, feel it and allow it to pass through. Just that small act has helped significantly with my healing.

Courtesy of Tiffany Hebb

My husband and I have grieved so differently through the years but the major part in us having a solid strong marriage after this tragic event, is allowing each other to grieve in our own way. We may have to leave the house or not agree with their way, but remember it’s their way and no one knows the proper way to grieve for your precious child. Ollie lives and blesses us daily as we bring hope to other grieving families.

And please, for Ollie’s sake, get locks on all your washing machines and DO NOT let your children play in them, they are not toys. Even if you think there are no dangers in your home, double check and check again. Please hug all your children extra tight for me and be a bit more patient.”

Courtesy of Tiffany Hebb

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tiffany Hebb. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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