“It was a cold January morning in 2010, Javi had left for work and I had just finished up breakfast with Jax. We were living at my parents, about to move into our townhouse in the weeks ahead. We had celebrated Jax’s first birthday the November before, and he was walking, talking and curious as any 1 year old would be. But he was a creature of habit for the most part, and after breakfast he would watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the living room and play with his toys. To this day, I can still see him sitting in front of the TV with his snack bowl and toys. I would barricade him in with an ottoman and some chairs so he would only have access to the living room, a bedroom and bathroom off to the side, he was still too little to open doors so I knew closing the bathroom door would keep him safe.
I refilled his snacks, started another episode and headed to a different bedroom to pack some boxes for our move. I had no music playing, no tv on, and no distraction from hearing Jax talking to mickey through the TV yelling colors and shapes. And then the noise stopped. I thought, I’ll go refill his snacks and check on him. Walked into the living room and he was nowhere to be found, my heart started beating a bit more, ‘check the bedroom’ I thought, the one that is connected to the living room. Remember, it’s attached to the living room. Also, how could he have gone anywhere else, he is barricaded in by furniture.
He’s not in the bedroom. I start yelling out for him as my heart is now beating faster and faster. Mom instinct kicked in. I checked outside, I went outside and immediately saw the pool in my parent’s back yard was empty. I let out a sigh of relief, my parents lived in a small lake type neighborhood, all the houses backed the lake and had small wooden docks and electric boats. I checked the lake, even more relief, he wasn’t there. I took relief in knowing he had to be somewhere in the house.
So, I went back inside went to my dad’s office. He liked to go in there because my dad was normally eating some kind of junk food or watching football and he loved both. But, he wasn’t in my dad’s office either. I start yelling, his name, louder and louder and my dad starts looking. I check more of the house in the next few seconds or what felt like hours, and my mom instinct kicked again and I headed back to the backyard.
There he was, face up in the lake, in his dinosaur footie pajamas. A sight I will never unsee. I fall to the ground immediately, he was gone. I screamed and kept screaming, ‘NO, GOD NO!’ I froze, I physically couldn’t move and NONE of my background in CPR and keeping kids safe for the past 10 years came to me. It was all gone, Jax was gone, I was frozen. My dad ran down to the lake as he was saying, ‘No buddy, no buddy, no my buddy!’ He pulled him out and started CPR, he yelled at me to call 911 and I got off the ground and ran to get the phone. Everything was in slow motion. I remember thinking, and in my head all that was real was he was gone. Too much time had gone by, (the 3 minutes I had been searching for him felt like 3 hours), my entire world was gone. In seconds.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak, I could barely tell the 911 operator our address. I just held the phone up to my ear watching my dad crying pushing on his chest and giving him CPR. I just heard in my head, over and over, no buddy come on buddy come on… my dads cries. He turned him over, water came out of his mouth and he started coughing. At that same time the fire department was walking through the back gate and they took him from my dad.
They hooked him up to machines under the patio and told me they were transporting him. I knew he coughed, but didn’t know if he was really alive. I heard him utter a weak waterlogged cry, but there were so many people around I couldn’t even get to him. Was he ok? Was he alive? Are his eyes open? I didn’t know. I followed them through the side of the back gate as they put him in an ambulance. I barely saw him, they wouldn’t let me go in the ambulance. I panicked. I thought I would never see him again.
At this moment another fire truck was showing up, because my dad was having a heart attack in the backyard from the trauma. Newscasters showed up, and helicopters. It was madness. I just wanted to be in the ambulance with my baby. One of the firefighters said, ‘Come with me, we will follow the ambulance.’ As soon as we got in the car I realized I didn’t have shoes, oh well, I was in pajama pants and a sweatshirt since it was a cold morning. I texted Javi, ‘Mesa hospital, JAX!’ and then didn’t look at my phone again. The firefighter in the car said, ‘If they turn lights on while we are following them and they take off, don’t be alarmed.’ I thought, yeah okay. I knew they were taking him to Banner Children’s because regardless of his condition. They will have the best treatment for him being so little, and I remember feeling comfort in that. But, it wasn’t close, I did not have comfort in that. The ambulance lights go on, and they take off through the traffic of cars. I had lost him again. I panicked in the car and just remember wondering if he felt alone. Does he know I am right here behind him! I am right here!
The firefighter driving me was nice and tried to calm me, saying ‘everything is going to be okay.’ It’s a great sign he was crying. It helped a little. We got to the hospital and the first person I saw was Javi. I don’t even know how. But he got to Jax right away and somehow knew exactly where to go to be with him. I felt better knowing one of us was with him. I see him on the stretcher as they are took him to a room, he was awake and looked very out of it. But his eyes were open, and he knew who we were. I can’t explain that feeling. I feel like I had to talk myself out of thinking he was gone. All I saw in my head was him floating in the lake in his dinosaur footy pajamas. That is all I see.
They allowed me to go into the room with him and talk to him in his ear. I told him I loved him so much and I was so sorry for not keeping him safe. Still to this day, I don’t know how he got through the furniture. I do however, know how he got outside, it was through the small dog door my parents had for their beagles. A small, dog door.
I didn’t know it at the time, but they were watching my behavior the second firefighters arrived on the scene. I also didn’t know at the time that I would be investigated by Child Protective Services. But soon after they got Jax stable and he was breathing and not showing signs of brain damage, they called me out of the room for a pretty intense interview. I was offended at the time, but also had nothing to hide. Honestly, during the entire interview, I feel like I was not even there. I just wanted to be back in the room with Jax and Javi.
I found out from my mom that my dad was ok, his heart attack was mild. Some good news amidst the chaos. They kept Jax for 4 days in the Children’s Unit, monitoring his vitals and making sure he had all the same functions he did before the accident. He was an angel and was still our same sweet boy. Knew all the same words, knew everyone that was important to him, and still ate like a champ. It was truly a miracle.
When they asked what happened, nothing made sense to me. It had only been a few minutes until I had checked on him last, watching Mickey, eating snacks. How could this have happened so fast? I hate to say this and admit it, but I used to be the mom judging stories like this when I would hear them, in my head thinking, ‘The parents weren’t paying close enough attention,’ ‘How could you not know your kid went outside and ended up in the pool?’ The judgment hit me hard, and was one of the toughest life lessons I would ever encounter. I was now the mom who wasn’t paying close enough attention, even though, after now all of these years I know, was not the case. It really does happen in seconds, and I couldn’t have felt worse for throwing judgment all of those times before. Especially when my son had survived and so many people have not been as fortunate. I still cannot believe he survived. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that day.
I wanted to know more. I asked the firefighters why I didn’t see him when I looked the first time? When my mom gut told me to go to the backyard, where was he? How did I not catch this when I was right there? The firefighters told me most likely when I checked the first time, he was completely submerged into the water and the actual drowning process was happening so far below there was no sign of him. The answer made me physically sick to my stomach when I pictured my baby going through these motions. Sick, for years… I would think about me looking into the green lake and Jax down so far in the water, drowning. To know that I was right above him and did not know, has haunted me. They also told me what seemed like hours to me was in fact only minutes, and that he was likely only in the water 1-3 minutes, and what actually ended up saving him was the amount of time he was in there before CPR starting. Also the fact it was January, and the water was so cold that when your body is submerged into cold water, the chance of survival is a lot higher than if you were to drown in warmer water.
Cold water slows the heartbeat, stops the breathing and redistributes the blood flow toward the organs that need most of the blood and oxygen which are the heart, lungs and brain. He explained it was like a shield wrapped around essential organs when you drown in cold water. I remember thanking god over and over saying, ‘Thank you god for making it cold that morning. Thank you thank you god’.
While we were in the hospital, we were informed we would still be in ‘investigation with CPS,’ more words which would haunt me for years to come. I had worked in early childhood education my whole life, had all certifications to take care of children and keep them safe. Yet, when it came down to it and it was my own child, I froze. I physically couldn’t save him. Now, I was being looked into as a parent and if I neglect my baby. It was horrible. But, I kept reminding myself Jax is alive and it is really all that matters. And it was, all that mattered.
We left the hospital and moved into our townhouse, ironically in a lake type community. CPS came to our home and did a ‘home check’ to make sure everything was safe. We did not have a pool, and all community lake areas were pretty good distance from our house, although I knew it meant nothing because it could still happen. CPS informed me how drowning is the leading cause in infants ages 1-4, and the reason they do the neglect investigation is because a lot of the cases really are true neglect. She closed out my case and confirmed that it was not neglect, and instead labeled it a tragic accident. After my interview with CPS and hearing what she said, I thought, ‘Wow, I am SO glad they do those interviews and investigations.’ To think that there are moms or dads out there who don’t care at all and let their kids drown and still don’t seem to be phased by it, made me sick. I was glad they were proactive in watching and investigating me right away, since I clearly had nothing to hide. But it gave me hope the mothers who did have something to hide or who really did not care, could be looked into, and those poor babies could be taken care of and loved the way they should be.
Days, months, and years passed, and we continued with life and having more babies. I didn’t go to therapy afterwards, and I truly regret that. Javi and I didn’t talk about it really at all. I wanted to, I felt inside like I needed to, but he was very protective of the situation, and anytime I would bring it up he would get upset. As years went by, I realized that Javi is the type who gets angry when people he loves are in danger or get hurt. It’s his first reaction. I’ve learned to just kind of accept it, although it’s not my favorite reaction. Everyone reacts differently, and I think he gets so upset he can’t fix it, avoid it, or make it better, and he gets angry. I understand it, kind of. It makes me angry when I think about the fact I froze and couldn’t do anything, and I think over time I felt like he didn’t want to talk about it because he was angry with me that I could have let that happen. Which I also understand, remember I used to be that person, watching the stories on TV and thinking, how in the world did that mom let that happen? You truly don’t get it until it happens to you. There is no way of understanding.
I regret not going to therapy because I feel like I suffered a lot of PTSD from that day. I think my dad did too, since he was the one who sprang into action and was under so much trauma at the time. My sweet dad saved Jax’s life. I will never forget that. I will always have him to thank. I don’t know what would have happened if he wasn’t there and I don’t want to know. It happened the way god planned it to happen, and god planned on Jax being a miracle. He was kept on this earth for a reason, and to this day I feel it. Every time I look at him, I feel it. Maybe it’s why I baby him a bit more, I don’t know. But I will cherish every second with him, because for what felt like hours of my life, I lost him. Even if it was for a couple heart wrenching moments, I still lost him.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Abby Garcia. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read another story from Abby here:
‘Drowning accidents can happen to ANYONE.’ Mom gives water safety tips as summer approaches
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