Friday, September 20, 2019

The Day Daniel Drowned

It was a mild October afternoon in 1993 when Daniel drowned. I was doing homework with the older children and he was outside riding his plastic motorbike up and down the driveway. I suddenly realised that the rhythmic sounds had stopped. “Ethel,” I called our maid. “Please can you check what Daniel’s doing.”

Seconds later a shrill scream changed the course of my life forever. With a mother’s instinct I threw the homework aside and ran to the swimming pool. He lay on the surface of the water, face down, limbs limp, hair floating like a golden mist. I was already praying as I plunged down the steps, swam to him and pulled him to the love seat in the deep end. “Lord, please let him be okay when I turn him over.”


I hefted him onto the pool surround and turned him on his side. His face was blue and grey like marble, lifeless and dead. Water ran from his mouth, his eyes were shut. I tilted him further over to get the water out while shouting at Ethel. “Go and find a neighbour, ask them to call an ambulance!”

The ABC steps I’d learned in a CPR course a few weeks earlier miraculously came to mind. Airway, breathing, circulation. No more water was coming out but he was still and had no pulse. I started breathing into him, compressing his tiny chest, breathing into him, over and over. The lady from across the road arrived with Ethel. Took in the situation with a horrified glance and dashed off to call an ambulance.

It seemed forever that I breathed into and compressed my son’s lifeless body, praying fervently the whole time. And then he coughed, water came up, and he coughed again and drew in a shaky breath. The relief was immense but I didn’t realise the battle was just beginning.

The ambulance arrived 30 minutes later. I’d stripped Daniel’s clothes off and wrapped him in his cot duvet. He was breathing but unconscious. The children sat with me, all of us silent and devastated. The paramedics assessed him quickly before carrying him to the ambulance where I sat in the back with him. They wrapped him in a thermal blanket to warm him up. By now he’d started making convulsive movements and his breathing was raspy and laboured. “It’s called posturing,” they explained to me. “It’s a sign of the brain being starved of oxygen.”

We were taken to A&E at Greys Hospital and a couple of doctors had a brief look at Daniel. He was still posturing and they told me his pupils were dilated and unresponsive to light. Both of these were signs of brain damage but they refused to treat him as we earned too much to qualify for hospital care. I knew the first hour was critical in situations like Daniel’s and begged them to do something. But they would not. The system had robbed them of humanity and a heart. 

Kevin arrived at this stage and sought information from the medical staff on Daniel’s condition. He spoke to the paramedics, A&E nurses, the matron, the doctor and all of them advised him they had no idea and we would have to wait for our private doctor. When the doctor arrived, he told Kevin that if Daniel lived through the night, he would be mentally impaired and probably spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He also refused to treat him and said Daniel needed a paediatrician. Kevin walked outside, looked up to the stars and asked God to please take him home. He didn’t want him back in a damaged state. He then went back into A&E to see Daniel and was asked to hold an oxygen mask to his face. Kevin watched in disbelief as Daniel’s face swelled up by 25 percent. At this stage, the shock was too much and he was given half a Valium before heading home. A friend took the other children home for the night.

Two paediatricians from the practice we were with arrived an hour after we’d reached the hospital. They assessed Daniel as critical as convulsive movements shook his little body and his eyes stared vacant and unfocused. It was now 6pm.

He was lying on a normal bed in A&E with the rails up and the doctors decided to move him immediately up to paediatric high care. Brakes off, they stood one on each side of the bed pushing it, running through the hospital corridors, into the lift and up to the children’s floor. In a private room they tried to get a line into him, poking and probing as he postured and wailed. Eventually one of them turned to me. “His veins are all flat. Do you mind if we shave some of his hair off and insert the drip into his scalp?”

Would I mind when he was at death’s door? “Do it,” I said. Several minutes later, they said that too had failed. The last resort was to insert the drip directly into his jugular vein. Once the medication was finally seeping into his battered body, they ordered a set of x-rays and then updated me on their findings.

“His brain is swollen due to a lack of oxygen,” they said, “and his pupils are not reacting to light. We’ve started him on Mannitol which should reduce the swelling … but he’s scoring low on the Glasgow coma scale, about 4 or 5 out of 15. It’s really a waiting game now. If he makes it through the night, we’ll be able to assess how bad the brain damage is.”

I sat down in a chair next to Daniel’s hospital cot. His hair was shaved on the side and there were monitors and cables attached to various parts of his body. He was still convulsing and posturing but his eyes remained shut. He had his own nurse who would spend the night with us in the room. It turned out she was a Christian. “I’m praying for your son,” she told me as she checked the readings every 15 minutes. The figures remained the same.

This was before mobile phones were in use and from about 7pm, friends from church started calling the hospital. Time after time the staff called me to the phone in the nurses’ station. Friends and acquaintances told me they were praying for Daniel, praying for us. That they were so sorry to hear what had happened. They encouraged us to keep believing God for a miracle. It was heart-warming to know that our church community was behind us.

At 9pm a small group of people arrived from the church, just three or four of them from memory. We hugged and I updated them on the situation. Daniel lay in the cot, unconscious but alive. These wonderful friends gathered around him, laid hands on him, called him back to life, bound the enemy’s work and prayed blessings over him.

Daniel with my Mom in 2018

Still there was no change. I had a bed in the same room and lay awake all night, praying, wondering how all this could have happened so quickly. How our lives had been changed in an instant. How the pool gate had been left open. I still don’t know how it happened. I chose not to question the family over who might have left the gate unlocked. It had a chain and padlock but both were lying on the ground that afternoon.

At 5am, I leaned over Daniel’s cot yet again, brushed hair back from his forehead and talked to him. His eyes opened and he looked at me. Not through me like he’d been doing, but at me. “Daniel,” I said. “Where’s your foot?” Slowly the blanket lifted. “Where’s your hand?” He lifted his right hand. His nurse was behind me, sharing the miracle.

“Your son is back!” She sent a message through to the doctors and I called Kevin.

“After I left the hospital,” he said, “Kelvin (our pastor) came around to see me. He had a word from the Lord and said that just as Daniel was in the lions’ den overnight, so our son would be in the den for a night but would walk out unharmed in the morning.”

One of the paediatricians came in soon after and confirmed that Daniel was in good shape with no ill effects of the drowning. He said he was very surprised to see the remarkable recovery after being in such critical condition the night before. In fact the story spread throughout the hospital and medical staff stopped in throughout the day to see the miracle baby as they called him. By mid-morning, he was running around, playing with toys and eating and drinking. He was put on antibiotics as a precaution and kept in hospital until evening for observation but he was fine.

In the days that followed, we found out how extensive the prayer support had been for Daniel. Stories were told of people interceding, lying on the floor before the Lord and crying out for God to save and heal our son. Without them, he might not be with us today and I’m eternally grateful to all those who prayed and cared.

So Daniel was fine but I lived with the guilt for years after. The shame of not keeping my home safe. Of not noticing sooner that he’d gone quiet. I imagined people judging me behind closed doors for having too many children and not being able to look after them properly. His story was picked up by the local newspaper and a couple of friends let slip that I was getting too much attention for nearly letting my son drown. I’m also so aware that many people have faced a similar situation that has not ended up as well as ours did. For years I never talked about what happened although Kevin shared the story frequently, often bringing people to tears.

Things would probably have continued like this, but I was on a flight to Sydney last week and spotted a movie called “Breakthrough” on the new release list. It was the true story of a teenager who drowned in an icy lake and the steadfast faith of his mother that God would heal him. I lived through all the emotions as the movie unfolded, remembering my own story and the anxious hours waiting to see if Daniel would live. I realised afresh that my son is a miracle and I should share our story just like that family has shared theirs.

I still have mementos of the day Daniel drowned. The little green tracksuit top he was wearing, and the baby duvet I wrapped him in while waiting for the ambulance. I pull them out every so often, close my eyes and remember that terrible day. Life is fragile and every breath we take is a precious gift. Hold your loved ones close, look out for them and never give up hope, even if the situation is desperate. God still performs miracles.

The Tracksuit Top Daniel was Wearing when He Drowned


  1. Debbie where you and Kevin members of MCC years ago.

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  3. All things are possible to those who love the Lord and trust in Him.Amen

  4. Indeed whatsoever that is impossible with man with God it is possible.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes. Your story reminds us again, with God on our side everything is possible,and we must never stop praying. God Bless you and your family.