Bethesda Magazine | July-August 2017

Kids and Water Safety

A Potomac mother shares the story of her son's nonfatal drowning. Find out what she's doing to promote CPR training and prevent drownings.

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Laura has helped develop promotional materials for Families United to Prevent Drowning, including a pack of glossy cards, each one sponsored by a family foundation and featuring the story of a loved one. Photo by Skip Brown

In the days and weeks after returning home, everyone was still in shock. The enormity of how close Clay had come to dying would momentarily overwhelm Laura. She remembers thinking: How the hell am I going to ever let my kid out of my sight without being heavily medicated at all times?

A conscientious mother, she thought she’d been doing everything right. Even though Clay was just a few months past his third birthday, he’d already taken two semesters of swim lessons. “I definitely thought he would have been able to get himself to the side of the pool. I didn’t think he would fall in and just sink,” she says. “What I realized later was I didn’t know about the whole methodology of teaching people to float on their back.”

Just two weeks after the accident, the Metros decided to face their fears and go to the pool at the Bethesda Country Club, though Laura could barely stand to be there. News of Clay’s accident had made friends hypervigilant around the water. No longer did anyone “check out” by socializing or using their phones when they were at the pool with their children, Jenny Camps says. And because of the family’s experience, friends now will hire a lifeguard when they hold pool parties.

Still, Laura says, lifeguards aren’t enough. Drowning deaths occur in guarded pools because lifeguards can get distracted or not see a child who’s fallen in or become trapped under a raft. “A lifeguard at the pool doesn’t mean you’re not watching your kids,” she says, suggesting that families designate people to take shifts watching children when they are in or near water. “It’s a very easy and manageable way to make sure someone is watching—because accidents happen when everyone is watching and [yet] no one is watching.”

As Laura learned more about the victims of drownings, she discovered that Clay’s level of recovery was an anomaly. She recalled that a doctor from the trauma team, amazed to hear how well Clay was doing, stopped by to visit after Clay woke up. “I had to come up,” he told Laura. “I didn’t think he was going to make it.”

Laura realized that there were many families dealing with the aftermath of nonfatal drownings. In addition, she learned that medical care for the survivors amounts to $6.2 billion annually. The comment of the trauma doctor, coupled with Clay’s recovery, were what first spurred Laura to focus on CPR training when the family created The C.L.A.Y Foundation.

“The doctors could not explain Clay’s recovery. They were trying to put together the story, but the reality was he was on the bottom of the pool with the towel. So there was a certain amount of time that would have suggested that he would be having a much worse neurological outcome,” she says. “And in the end they said, ‘We can tell you he’s a miracle, but we don’t do that. It’s got to be the bystander CPR. That is the only thing that we can think of.’ ”

That made Laura question why she didn’t know how to administer CPR and led her to focus her efforts on raising awareness about the lifesaving skill. “I consider myself a very safety-conscious mom,” she says, recalling that she once returned a car because the rear seat belts wouldn’t lock properly when she tried to install a child safety seat.

With Matt’s support, Laura has big plans for CPR Party, and she’s hoping to secure enough funding that she can one day draw a modest salary for her efforts. “I want to be operating on a massive scale across the country,” she says.