Monday, February 21, 2011
"A broken pool gate cost us our son" - An important article
It took less than a minute for two-year-old Kaine to drown in the family pool. Here, Karen George relives the heartbreak of losing her son
THIRTY seconds. That’s all it took. One moment, he was at my side; the next, he was floating in the pool.
My youngest son, Kaine, was a typical two-year-old – cheeky and headstrong, and robust and nuggety like his dad. He was learning to swim and loved being in the water – it was even hard to get him out of the bathtub. He was a little water baby.
I remember March 19, 2006, so vividly. When you find your child drowning, it’s an image that haunts you for the rest of your life. What you see, the emotions you go through – you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.
Six months earlier, our family had moved into a rental property in St Clair, Sydney. We noticed the pool gate was broken and filed a complaint, but the real-estate agent never got around to fixing it. That broken gate cost us our son’s life.
That day, my partner, Darren, and I invited some friends over for lunch. The children went for a swim in the morning, then we ate lunch. In the afternoon, the kids played outside while the adults cleared up.
I remember Kaine came inside to go to the toilet and, a moment later, he ran off to find his sisters, Brooke, who was 5, and Teaghan, 3. That was the last time I saw him alive.
He was gone for less than a minute when Teaghan asked, “Mum, where’s Kaine?”
“Isn’t he with you?” I said.
My heart skipped a beat.
We ran through the house calling his name, then searched the back and front yards. I knew Kaine would never take a nap or play by himself in his room. He was fearless. He loved the water. Suddenly I had a sick feeling in my gut. I knew he must be in the pool.
I ran up to the pool gate and there he was, floating behind a li-lo. There had been no noise, no splashing, nothing. He’d been missing for less than a minute. I screamed.
I pulled Kaine out of the water. His face looked peaceful, but his eyes were fixed and dilated. I knew this was a terrible sign. When someone’s eye are like that, they’re as good as gone. I know because I’m an assistant nurse but, at that moment, my nursing went out the window and my maternal instincts took over. I had to try to save my son, even though I knew it was already too late. It was the strangest feeling.
Somebody ran inside to call an ambulance and the paramedics arrived three or four minutes later. The timing is a blur; to me those few minutes felt like an eternity.
The ambulance drove us to the hospital while Darren stayed home with the girls.
It took 45 minutes for doctors to resuscitate Kaine and, that night, he was moved to the intensive care unit at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. His body was bloated and his eyes empty, but I never left his side. The doctors said he was severely brain damaged and it was inevitable he’d die soon.
A week later, they asked if we’d agree to switch off his life support. It was the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make. Darren and I talked about it for a long time. Since that day in the pool, Kaine’s facial expression hadn’t changed. It was the same blank stare. He didn’t recognise us, his sisters or his two older brothers. He didn’t even know we were in the room with him. It was as though he’d already left us.
We refused to leave our son hooked up to life support for the rest of his life, so we told him, “You have to make a choice, you have to live or die – without the tubes and machines.”
The next day, the doctors switched off the equipment that had been keeping Kaine alive. Miraculously, he seemed to get stronger. In fact, he became so strong, the doctors told us we could take him home for Easter.
We cared for him round the clock and he made so much progress, we began to pray he might survive after all.
But our luck didn’t last. A few days later, Kaine caught pneumonia and his lung – which was weak from oxygen deprivation – collapsed. He died on April 21, 2006, just over a month after the accident.
We moved to a new house the day before Kaine’s funeral. We couldn’t live in the old house any more – the memories were too raw.
I’m honestly not sure how we began to pick up the pieces. I went back to work within two weeks – I had to stay busy. If I’d stayed at home, I would’ve gone nuts.
But we all grieved in different ways. I went to counselling because I found it helped to talk, but Darren tried a few sessions and it wasn’t for him. Instead, he drank heavily, which cost him his driver’s licence and job. He was devastated; Kaine was his only son.
We’re lucky we’re still together – many relationships don’t survive the death of a child. Kaine’s death put a huge strain on ours, but we talked a lot and that got us through it.
It affected the whole family, from Brooke, now 10, and Teaghan, 8 – who were there when Kaine drowned and saw him at the hospital – to my sons, Boyd, 29, and Clinton, 21, and Darren’s daughter, Cayley, 15.
After the accident, Boyd stopped speaking to me. He’ll never forgive me for Kaine’s death. But I can’t blame myself – children can drown in the blink of an eye. It’s impossible for any parent to watch them every second of every day.
Boyd has four kids of his own now, so not only have I lost my youngest son, I’ve lost Boyd and four grandchildren, too. I’ve accepted the fact we’ll never reconcile. It hurts, but I just live day-to-day.
We celebrate Kaine’s birthday every year. Brooke, Teaghan and I make him a birthday cake and Teaghan blows out the candles. Sometimes we hear her whispering to Kaine as though he’s still here – they were only 18 months apart in age.
Special occasions will always hurt. Over Christmas, we took our caravan up the coast for a couple of weeks. It helps to get away and to stay busy.
As parents, we’re a lot more protective now. Teaghan and Brooke are still young, and they’re not allowed out of our sight. They don’t seem to mind, but they might become less understanding when they’re teenagers.
I rang the real-estate agent the morning after Kaine’s accident, and they sent someone over to fix the gate the next day. Of course, the repairman couldn’t touch the fence by then because it was under police investigation. I was furious. Why did they respond to our complaint letter only when it was too late? We received some legal compensation, but it pales in comparison to the pain we’ve suffered in the four years since Kaine died.
I don’t think you ever get over the death of a child. I still relive Kaine’s drowning every single day. The pain becomes more numb, but it doesn’t get easier. You just learn to deal with it because, if you don’t, you’ll crumble and your life will fall apart.
Danger In The Water
In 2009/10, drownings in Australia rose for the second year running, to a total of 314 deaths.
In that period, 33 victims were children under four. Of those, 49 per cent drowned in swimming pools.
Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children under five.
For every drowning death, four people are hospitalised after near-drownings. Of those, 22.5 per cent suffer brain damage or disability, according to the Samuel Morris Foundation, which supports parents of children suffering such long-term effects. Visit www.samuelmorrisfoundation.org.au.
For advice about pool safety, visit www.royallifesaving.com.au.
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