MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A Tennessee family whose three-year-old son drowned on a family trip to Fort Morgan last year has teamed up with an Olympic gold medalist, to spread a simple message about drowning. It’s a message they wished they had known before their son died. Olympic skier, Bode Miller, lost his two-year-old daughter to drowning last year in California.
Little Levi Hughes drowned last June while his family was vacationing along Fort Morgan. It’s a trip they took every year with several other families. They were staying in a large house with a pool. Mom, Nicole, says her son Levi practically lived in his life jacket or water wings.
“We took water safety seriously. I wouldn’t even let him out of the room in the house until he had his life jacket on. In the pictures, he’s not in the water in most of them. He’s eating a popsicle at the beach or flying a kite with his dad, and he was wearing a life jacket or puddle jumper in every single one of them. I think that is what makes me so angry. We did it. We did everything we knew to do right,” Hughes said.
The Hughes family was inside the condo eating brownies when somehow Levi escaped.
“I have relived these next few seconds. I have gone back on repeat, I have grabbed my shoulders and said ‘turn around, how do you not see him?’ I don’t know how we did not see him. Somehow he got out of the room. Filled with adults and kids and I don’t know how. I didn’t even know he was missing. It was so quick, it was so quick,” Hughes said.
Hughes says she walked outside to spot a flash of yellow in the bottom of the pool. That yellow was the crab t-shirt that he was wearing. Several medical professionals were vacationing with the Hughes. They attempted CPR, but despite their efforts, and the efforts of paramedics on the LifeFlight helicopter, Levi did not make it.
A similar story happened to the Miller family in California. Bode Miller won a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics in downhill skiing. He and his wife lost their little girl, Emme, to drowning last year almost at the exact time that Levi died. She wandered into a neighbor’s pool.
How the Hughes and Miller families have joined forces to make people realize that seventy percent of childhood drawings happen during non-swim times. These are times when families are not out on the water together, or swimming together at the pool. Times when children aren’t supposed to be swimming.
“The real problem is lack of awareness. That’s what it is. It’s a lack of awareness of how and when drowning happens and how often it happens. It has to start with awareness. It has to. We have to get people are parents and caretakers and aunts and uncles and grandparents and everyone to realize — real kids, real kids drown, and it can happen in seconds. You never think this is gonna be you until it is,” Hughes said.
Hughes, along with the Miller family, are now encouraging parents to start swim lessons for children as young as six months old.
“Drowning is one hundred percent preventable so you can stop it now. Put as many barriers between your child and the water. Always make them wear a life jacket just like it’s a seatbelt. The statistics on drowning are terrifying. I mean so many children and teenagers die every year from drowning but the ways to prevent it are so doable. This is a no brainer. You can keep your child from drowning. You do not want to have to drive back from the beach without one of your kids,” Hughes said.
Here is a link to the non-profit that Hughes has started in memory of Levi. It has a lot of good information for parents about how to prevent drowning, including information on Water Guardians. These are bracelets that parents/caretakers wear when it’s their time to be in charge of watching kids