This Fourth of July weekend, Tamera Hyten will be counting her blessings. Principal among them are her four grandchildren.
Last year at this time, the Riley Hospital for Children critical care nurse’s world was shaken by a near-tragedy. Her then-2-year-old granddaughter almost drowned in Hyten’s pool during a family gathering.
Hyten and her husband had gathered the weekend before the holiday at their home with their four grown children, grandchildren and other family members. She was in the kitchen, “Papa Todd” (her husband) was manning the grill, and others were either chatting by the pool or congregating in the house.
Her son was counting heads and came into the kitchen looking for Hazel, his 2-year-old, at about the same time as “Papa Todd” was bringing food in from the grill.
“I thought she was in the house, we all did,” Hyten said.
She scanned the large kitchen and living room area. No Hazel. Her initial fear was that the toddler had gotten out the front door and was in the street. That thought had barely registered when she heard her son Andrew’s voice.
“He was looking out the back window, and he said, ‘Oh my God. Hazel.’ ”
The words sent a chill through Hyten. “I just knew she was in the pool.”
The next few minutes were a blur.
“My son runs out, I’m on his heels.”
She remembers kneeling on the edge of the pool while her son handed the girl to her.
“It’s still difficult to believe it happened. I looked at her color; she wasn’t breathing.”
Hyten yelled at someone to call 911, then started CPR. As she performed compressions on the limp toddler, she could hear the sirens from the nearby fire station wailing. “I knew help was coming.”
She did two rounds of 30 chest compressions each and two rescue breaths before Hazel gasped, and rescue workers took over. Medics gave her oxygen and transported her to Riley, but Hyten was fearful.
“In the ambulance, she wasn’t completely responsive. She didn’t respond to IV pokes. I was very scared.”
She had seen kids in this situation before, and the knowledge she had as a nurse meant she would worry more. If her granddaughter survived, would she be the same child?
Coming to Riley was surreal, Hyten said. “I never dreamed I would be bringing my grandchild to the Riley ER, being placed in a trauma room and going through that. I was very grateful that the people caring for her were people I knew and trusted. They’re like family. That was comforting.”
About an hour later, Hyten was sitting in the emergency department with her granddaughter, who by then looked better but still hadn’t spoken or responded, the nurse said. She seemed stunned, perhaps still in a state of shock.
When her husband walked into the room, Hyten pointed to the other side of the bed and said to Hazel, “Look who’s here, who is that?”
That’s when the tears fall as Hyten tells the story. Her sassy granddaughter slowly turns her head, rolls her eyes and says “That’s Todd,” with an emphasis on the “d.”
It was that moment when Hyten knew that little Hazel would be OK.
But it would be months before Hyten herself would be OK. A torrent of emotions – fear, anger, sadness and guilt – roiled inside her, leaving her struggling to make sense of what had happened.
“I was in a state of shock. I was numb, I was easily distracted, I couldn’t think clearly, I didn’t sleep well.”
She needed a place to put all those feelings, so she began reading up on drowning and was surprised to learn that it can happen in as little as 20 seconds and it is often silent.
“Victims are unable to get air in and certainly not enough air in to call out for help,” she said. “And they don’t splash. They’re trying to keep their head above water. Their limbs are typically underwater with irregular movement.”
She looked for something positive to do with the emotional energy she was carrying around. That’s when she connected with Tiffany Egan-Rojas, injury prevention coordinator at Riley. Together, they have shared her story to bring awareness to the dangers and to offer water-safety tips to help other families.
“I feel like maybe I can help somebody else not have to go through this.”
Egan-Rojas believes Hyten’s personal story can save lives. Together, they preach the message of active supervision (without distractions) around water – whether it’s a pool, a pond or a bathtub. Put down the phone and pay attention to your child or any child in your care. Stay within an arm’s reach if you have a child who can’t swim.
“When you have children around any body of water, be hyper-vigilant,” Egan-Rojas said.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control report that unintentional drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death in children ages 1 to 4, she said. Between ages 5 and 9, it’s the second leading cause of unintentional injury death just behind motor vehicle crashes.
In 2017, 114 people drowned in Indiana, 29 of them children, according to the Department of Natural Resources. The greatest percentage happened in ponds and private pools. But for children under the age of 1, over half of drownings were in bathtubs. For older kids and adults, the greatest risk is in open water, where stronger currents, drop-offs and misperceptions of distance increase the danger.
The DNR doesn’t chart near-drownings like Hazel’s, but Hyten has seen her share in her work at Riley.
“I had just cared for a near-drowning weeks before this,” she said. “We had several drownings last summer and several through the winter as well. Pools aren’t the only risk.”
She has instituted a new rule at her own pool. Instead of everyone assuming that someone else has an eye on the kids in the pool, there is a designated person at every gathering now. She even bought lifeguard gear so there’s no question who’s in that role.
If you have a pool, it’s important that someone in the family knows CPR, she said. “I knew what to look for, I knew what to do. All that CPR training every two years kicked in.”
How do you know a person needs CPR? You look for breathing, listen for breaths, and check for a pulse, she said. Before beginning CPR, have someone call 911. The single trained rescuer is now advised to give 30 compressions at the rate of at least 100 per minute before giving two rescue breaths and then continuing at the rate of 30:2.
Hazel, now 3½, is doing well today, Hyten said. She’s sassy and more outgoing, she’s taking dance classes, she loves art, and she’s not afraid of the water. Cautious, but not afraid.
A few months after her granddaughter’s accident, Hyten and Hazel were back in a pool together at a hotel in Michigan.
“That was healing to be able to swim with her. Family gatherings take on a different meaning … we don’t take them for granted.”