‘We saw bubbles at the surface of the pool. ‘Someone needs to get him up now!’ He was limp and grey.’: Family share shallow water drowning PSA, ‘Please let your loved ones know’

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“On July 3rd, 2020, we were on a family vacation on an island in North Carolina. Myself, my Dad, and Chandler were all swimming in the resort pool, playing the familiar game of seeing how far we could swim from one end of the pool to the other without taking a breath. Mom, my older sister Addi, and Chandler’s wife Erin were watching from their pool chairs. My little Grahm had just left the pool to get out of the sun for the day. Chan said he could go from one end to the other without taking a breath. Understand, this is a game we play all the time, so nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Chan grabbed scuba goggles and was off underwater. And he did it, going from pool end to pool end without a breath.  

Courtesy of the Watson Family

After Chan touched the wall, he stayed underwater, sitting at the bottom. My dad and I saw bubbles at the surface and thought he was just seeing how much longer he could last while holding his breath. My mother was visibly worried and upset (thank God for mother’s intuition), and started saying, ‘Someone needs to get him up now!’ My dad and I insisted he was fine, as we saw bubbles come to the surface of the pool. About 20 seconds passed and finally, dad went to pull Chandler up and instantly knew something was wrong. He was limp and lifeless and the second my dad lifted him up, we saw his grey skin and blue lips. 

Chandler’s heart had stopped. 

My dad immediately started mouth to mouth in the pool as we carried his lifeless body to the stairs. Mom screamed for help and Erin and Addi got up in shock. Once we got to the stairs, there was a man who let us know he was an ICU doctor. He immediately started chest compressions on Chandler, yelling out, ‘He doesn’t have a pulse!’ In the midst of all this happening, another doctor who was a cardiologist came over and assisted. Between the compressions and mouth to mouth, they pumped and worked on him for what felt like a lifetime. I cannot put into words how traumatic this was to witness. This went on for five minutes, Chandler‘s body not responding with no heartbeat, no pulse.  

Everyone was doing everything they could as we waited for paramedics to come. Erin was unable to move on the ground as my mom tried to comfort her. My Dad stayed next to Chandler, two other ladies ran up to Addi and were holding her, and I was handed a phone to talk to the 911-dispatcher to tell them what was happening. Everything moved in slow motion as Chandler was not responding. After the long minutes of CPR, the doctors placed the defibrillators on his chest to begin use. Just before using the defibrillator, the two doctors yelled out they had a pulse.  

Courtesy of the Watson Family

Immediately after Chandler came back to us, he was ferried off the island by the medics and taken to a local hospital. The doctors at the hospital monitored him for six hours. They told us Chandler was a victim of something called ‘shallow water drowning’ or ‘shallow water blackout.’ The prolonged lack of oxygen caused his brain to shut down without warning, and he went into immediate cardiac arrest.  

We had never heard of shallow water drowning. The fatality rate of this kind of incident is over 90% because there are simply no signs of distress. This specific type of drowning kills 4 times faster than normal drowning. As you hold your breath for extended periods of time, you are not in pain or distress and it plays a trick on the mind. The effect is immediate when your lungs reach their limitChandler is young, fit, and a competent swimmer; exactly the type of person that is most likely to succumb to this phenomenon. 

Courtesy of the Watson Family

When we hold our breath, oxygen levels in the bloodstream decrease. Usually, the carbon dioxide rises in our body, telling us we need to breathe. But when you continuously and deliberately hold your breath, it keeps the carbon dioxide levels in the body extremely low, blocking the brain’s signal to breathe. To put it simply, you blackout before you realize what is happening. 

As a family, we think about how many times we play pool games and how families and friends we know do the same. We just want people to know what happened so this never happens to someone they love. Please let your loved ones know. In fact, tell EVERYONE you know. 

We are in awe of the mercy and kindness of God. The Lord placed people at the pool that day to save his life. The two doctors at the resort pool, in the middle of a pandemic with a required reservation for 50% capacity, was God’s perfect timing. There were people at the scene audibly praying aloud for Chandler to breathe again. One of the doctors told us it was a last-minute decision for his family to go to the pool that day. The Lord orchestrated this whole day and we are forever thankful. We believed in those excruciating minutes we had lost Chandler. It was an experience none of us could have ever imagined on such a perfect family day.   

Chandler does not remember anything about the incident. In the last month, Chandler has gone through a series of tests with cardiologists and other doctors in Annapolis. Everything has come back clear, and they informed us Chandler’s heart is very healthy 

We are so thankful for the Lord’s hand of protection and knowing He was with us the whole time. He gave us a miracle right before our eyes. Chandler was dead and he is now alive, and we could not be more thankful. Dr. Mark Piehl and Dr. Idil Aktan were true angels at the pool that day. We are continually reminded of the importance of family, of taking in every moment we have with the people we love. We have seen first-hand the fragility of life and how God is the only one who knows the days of our lives.   

Chan’s heart has a beat and The Lord is not done with his story. Please be praying for Chan, Erin, and the whole family as we move forward.” 

Courtesy of the Watson Family
Courtesy of the Watson Family

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