‘Try to get him breathing!’ Experts said he’d remain in a semi-vegetative state for the rest of his life.’: Mom of near-drowning victim preaches water safety after ‘preventable accident’

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“Before his accident, Everett was my curious wildling. He loved to climb, never took no for an answer, and continually had me on my toes, ready to catch him jumping from the highest points at the playground. He was very advanced for his age in many areas, but especially speech. Friends would act shocked when I told them he was only 23 months old as he told them stories and asked them questions. His absolute favorite story was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He knew every word and often read the book to me and his big sister. He was born with long slender fingers and I always joked he would be a pianist; and, interestingly enough, he was drawn to pianos everywhere we went. He loves music and always has. And in my heart, I still hold on to the hope that if he wanted to be a concert pianist someday, he absolutely could. I have never seen him fail at anything.

A two-year-old on a playground points at the camera
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren
A two-year-old boy sits at a picnic table wearing a hat
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

March 15, 2018, was a totally typical day for me and the kids. Georgia was 3, Everett was almost 2, and Sawyer was 4 months old. My husband was on a business trip in New Orleans for the week, and I was so proud I had made it 4 days with all 3 kids by myself and he would be home the next day. We went grocery shopping and stopped at the park down the street to play before heading home. As I made dinner, I noticed my little Energizer bunny Everett wasn’t acting himself. He was sitting on the couch, totally calm, so I knew something was up. He didn’t eat much, so I took his temperature which read 101. He asked me for a bath, and I thought it would be a good idea to cool him down. He had never taken a bath without his sister before, but I got him in and ran to get his diaper and pajamas. This would prove to be my biggest mistake.

As I went across the hall to his room, I tripped over a mess of toys all over the floor, so I stopped to throw the toys in a basket, and my conscience told me, ‘Get back to the bathroom.’ I was only 5 feet away, but I didn’t hear him splashing or singing. Something inside me knew. I came to the doorway and didn’t see him, and my first thought was he was running around naked getting everything wet. But I instinctively went towards the tub just to check, and I saw him. Facedown, folded as if he was sitting and then just fell asleep. To this day, we don’t know if he fell asleep or had a seizure. Either way, leaving the bathroom even for 1 minute remains the biggest regret of my life.

The blood drained from my face, my adrenaline skyrocketed, and I screamed his name while scooping him out of the water with my arms around his belly, and ran to the living room to get my phone to dial 911. Before putting him in the bath, I made sure I told my daughter to leave my phone on the charger while she played a game on it. Thank God it was charged because I wouldn’t have had any other way to call for help.  The 911 operator told me to put Everett over my shoulder and pat his back hard to try to get him breathing again. As I held him, screaming for God not to take him, begging for mercy, begging for my child to stay with me, he began breathing, this awful-sounding moan coming from his pale blue body. And then, I felt a breath of certainty and peace wash over me and an inaudible voice speak over me, ‘Everything is going to be okay. He’s going to be okay.’

We waited an eternity for the paramedics to arrive, the infant screaming his head off in the bouncer next to me. I will never forget the vacuum cord being all over the room. Everett loved undoing it and making a jump rope. Out of sheer panic and desperation, I instructed my three-year-old to put her flip-flops on and go ring the neighbor’s bell. I couldn’t believe I was actually thinking of making her do it, but she dutifully began putting them on, knowing, even as a toddler, she was immediately thrust into the role of big sister and helper. Just as she stood up to go across the street, the paramedics came running in and took him from me, and laid him on the living room floor. We watched and waited, my three-year-old asking me a million questions in a cloud somewhere behind me, my baby wailing for me to pick him up, feed him.

In my naïve mind, I guess I thought they’d give him some kind of treatment and he’d be fine. I literally had to ask them to explain several times that they were transferring him to the hospital. My 83-year-old neighbor Thelma came walking over with her cane when she saw the red lights flashing. She stayed with the kids so I could ride in the ambulance. It took forever for them to get him stable enough to make the drive. I cried and prayed incessantly the entire time. I left some messages for my family to pray and told them a brief rundown of what was happening. My husband got on the next flight home. I sat up front; they wouldn’t let me in the back with Ev because they needed all hands on deck to keep him alive.

The chaplain met me at the door of the ER where they intubated him. She prayed with me right there in front of everyone, and I sat down to watch the team work on his fragile little body. They got him up to MRIs and CT scans while I was kept in a tiny waiting room. Looking back now, I think they were preparing to tell me he passed. But they didn’t know my kid and his stubborn will. They didn’t know what I knew. And I was bracing myself for whatever was to come.

A 2-year-old drowning victim is intubated in the ER
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

They got him a room in the PICU and told me in very gentle terms he took on water in his lungs, and the MRI showed massive swelling and damage to his grey and white matter. The prognosis did not look great, they kept saying things like, ‘Let’s keep him stable and wait and see.’ They didn’t sound hopeful he’d make it through the night. But I never doubted my son. After all, his name means ‘brave and strong.’ My husband was on his way, but wouldn’t arrive until 6 a.m. after taking the red-eye and driving 3 hours. I had no family in the area, but my parents threw some clothes in a bag and began the hour-long drive to our house to care for our children. I had a breastfeeding baby at home who needed his mommy to feed him, but I promised Everett I was not leaving the hospital without him.

A two-year-old drowning victim hooked up to wires in hospital
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

Local mom friends began spreading the word I needed help feeding Sawyer, and they all took turns nursing him, pumping for him, and delivering their frozen milk in batches. This was my tribe, the circle of women who held my family together and sustained my baby so I could stay in the hospital to help my toddler fight for his life. My parents stepped in and handled everything for me while my husband had to work. I attended daily rounds and made suggestions for Everett’s care. By the end of week 1, the doctors began discussing the possibility of a tracheostomy if his breathing didn’t stabilize. I knew this was not the right solution, and I fought for them to trial him off the ventilator. After a round of heavy sedatives, one doctor came in and noticed Everett was wide awake and attempting to move his limbs. ‘Wow,’ he said, ‘Everett is proof you can’t keep a good man down.’ I clung to those words and repeat them to this day.

A two-year-old boy in the hospital after a near-drowning experience
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

I finally got to hold him when the vent was out and the respiratory nurses placed him in my lap. He looked and felt just like an infant all over again. I could tell he was weak and lost his ability to hold his head up, but we still didn’t quite know how bad the brain damage was. He graduated from the PICU on day 12 and moved to a step-down transitional care unit. I knew the promise was being fulfilled. He was going to be okay. I really didn’t know what was left of his brain and cognitive function, but I knew somewhere deep in my spirit that he was going to thrive.

Friends came with essential oils, supplements, books, flowers, bags of snacks and lactation support for me, gift cards so I could eat something other than hospital food, sat with me in the lobby, and made small talk to help me feel normal again. My parents and husband brought the kids to visit us, and Everett began trying to interact a bit. He was still on a lot of medications and we were aggressively weaning him off of them to get a baseline of his abilities. He saw occupational and physical therapists daily, and they fit him for a stander and wheelchair. He had his second birthday in the hospital. Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed, of course. Friends came to visit and pray for him. We saw it as a symbol of his own metamorphosis. He was going to emerge a beautiful butterfly when this was all over.

A boy wearing a breathing tube is kissed by his mother
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

A week before we were discharged, it hit me in a wave of complete emotional exhaustion. I was going to be taking home a disabled child. What I thought was a difficult life with three kids under three before was a walk in the park compared to what I was faced with now. And I can’t believe it happened to me. ME of all people. I knew never to leave the bathroom with the kids in the water. I worked so hard to educate myself on good parenting practices. I own a health and natural wellness business. I happily and proudly went to extremes to live a non-toxic lifestyle. I advocated for Everett to remain untouched by medical intervention long before he was born, and now all of that was out the window as a watched them fill vials of opioids and narcotics for my two-year-old. It felt so wrong and so awful, but it was a necessary evil. ‘Just hang on and get him home where the real healing begins,’ our family chiropractor told me, and that became the ultimate goal.

A mother holds her son with special needs as he sticks out his tongue
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

Hospital ‘brain experts’ came in and told me with grave tones he would probably remain in a semi-vegetative state for the rest of his life. I didn’t listen for one second. After 6 long weeks in the hospital, and one surgery placing a feeding tube in his belly, we were finally going home. I had my husband take apart the toddler bed and buy a crib for Everett. We were going to have to treat him like a baby all over again. He lost the ability to eat by mouth, couldn’t move voluntarily at all, couldn’t speak, couldn’t hold his head up. Georgia lost her built-in playmate. And I suddenly had two ‘infants’ to care for. We fed him through a tube 6 times a day. We started reflex integration therapy called MNRI and used a hyperbaric chamber to reduce inflammation in his brain. We trialed several supplements and herbal remedies to bring him back.

A 2-year-old boy in a vertical wheelchair
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren
A mother hugs her toddler with special needs
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

Slowly, more of Everett emerged. Friends noticed the light in his eyes was returning. He connected with our voices and began interacting with us through laughter. Milestones were met as we faithfully took him to see our amazing therapist, Laurie. She shared our vision of total healing for Everett, and she dedicated so much patience and love to his recovery. After a year of therapy, he began eating by mouth again! His first real meal was pizza, and he devoured it, making up for lost time. Our church family supported us as we navigated funding his alternative healing methods, and our social media campaigns helped bridge the financial gaps in caring for a kid with lots of needs.

A mom and her son with special needs on a slide
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

Despite having support in many areas of life, I felt totally isolated as friends stopped inviting us places, assuming it would be too difficult for me to juggle all 3 of them alone. I suffered with PTS, flashbacks which would jolt me awake in a panic, nightmares where I didn’t get to him in time. Between handicap parking and explaining to inquisitive children at the zoo or playground why Everett was not talking to them, it all became increasingly difficult to come to terms with. In years prior, if you had told me I would be a mom of a special needs warrior one day, I would have said, ‘Bring it on. I’ll be content with whatever God gives me.’ But when faced with it and actually living it day in and day out, gosh, it is so overwhelming, and you don’t actually feel qualified or capable. Especially when there was a preventable accident that caused it.

You blame yourself, you replay the scenario a million different ways wishing you could turn back time, you get angry, you resent God, you wonder what life would look like now if it had never happened, you sometimes even let yourself think your family would be better off without you. But when you see that sweet boy working so hard in therapy to regain skills and put the pieces back together, you know you owe it to him to try just as hard as he is to heal. They say a part of you dies when faced with tragedy; I’m not sure about that. I know my heart is broken in a way that will never be healed this side of heaven. But I also know how strong my son is, and I am determined to keep fighting with him and for him. He has fought his way back and continues to push past every limitation.

At exactly two years post-accident, he took his first unassisted steps towards me, and he’s been walking like a champ ever since. He’s now climbing the stairs and playing with his trucks again. He’s feeding himself, attempting new sounds every day, and keeping up with brother and sister in the backyard. He pushes me to keep going, break down barriers of doubt and defeat, keep researching new ways to help him heal, and never give up. We’ve been all around the country visiting doctors and therapists of all kinds—from Masgutova method to stem cells to functional neurology, from Orlando to Austin to Phoenix. We will not stop fighting for this amazing little miracle boy until his healing is complete. What we now know to be true is the brain can heal and wants to heal.

A boy with special needs stands with his brother and sister
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

Everett is unstoppable and we are so blessed to have our boy with us. He just celebrated his 5th birthday, and we thank God for every day since March 15 we have had him here with us. The last three years have been full of heartache, unimaginable pain, and frustration, but we’ve had three years with our boy that were not promised to us, and they were also full of important hard lessons, extreme joy, and faith in the impossible. Everett has shown so many families in our non-fatal drowning community to keep believing for their miracle.

What I considered a curse on my life has been turned into an opportunity to help others. I could have chosen to be a victim and punish myself for what happened to Everett, but that would be a waste of the life God has given me. I am now using my knowledge and experience to assist parents who are going through a similar experience and provide helpful information and advocacy during their hospital stay and then connecting them with subsequent therapies. But even more importantly, we hope our story raises awareness about preventing this from even happening.  We are still waiting for Everett to fully emerge from his cocoon as a radiant butterfly, sharing his heart and speaking to the world about overcoming trials. But for now, we’ll keep trusting and believing his story is far from over.”

A boy with special needs wearing a blue shirt
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren
A mother holds her son with special needs
Courtesy of Stephanie Farren

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Farren. You can follow her journey on InstagramDo 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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