Tri-Cities mother who lost child to drowning urges other parents to start swimming survival skills early


TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – Even as we get closer to the end of summer, a lot of kids will still be hitting the pools to cool off. One Tri-Cities mother wants every parent to know the dangers of drowning and how to equip their children to survive in the water.

“As soon as I got pregnant with Willow, I knew we would be doing these lessons,” said Blountville, Tenn. mother, Nicole Hughes.

She says it is unfair to teach children that water is only a fun “playground” of sorts without also teaching them it can be dangerous, even deadly.

Hughes has enrolled her daughter Willow in survival swim lessons through “Infant Swimming Resource” (ISR), which teach children as young as 6 months old to roll and float to get air if they were to fall into the water.

“Once they know how to survive in the water, they can have fun in the water,” said local ISR instructor Laurie Whitmore.

Willow Hughes is 2 years old. As Nicole watches her learn, she says it’s emotional.

“It is only hard because I know with certainty that it would have saved Levi. There is no way around it, this would have saved him,” Hughes said.

Levi Hughes was 3 years old when he drowned in a pool on vacation with his family. Hughes and her family thought they did everything right to keep him safe. The mom of five says she knows now there was more that could have been done.

“The missing factor for us was giving him the skills necessary to survive,” Hughes said.

She says teaching a child to survive in the water is the “layer of protection” they can take with them anywhere they go.

“Drowning, in general, has so many misconceptions,” Whitmore said. “It is silent. You are not going to hear splashing and crying and screaming. Nine times out of ten, you are not going to hear anything.”

Hughes has made it her mission as a mother to educate other parents on what she wishes she had known.

“We don’t want to believe the reality of drowning,” Hughes said. “We want to check it off and find the loophole and say, ‘That isn’t going to happen to me.'”

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports drowning is the leading cause of injury death in children ages 1-4.

“When you break that statistic down further, almost every single time, it’s when they are not supposed to be swimming,” Hughes said. “Our son was sitting on the couch, and then he wasn’t.”

It’s full circle for Hughes; from losing one child to equipping her next with the ability to save her own life.

“I just feel so empowered,” Hughes said. “We gave you this, we gave you this skill.”

When it comes to survival swim lessons like ISR, Hughes wants this to be the standard.

“You need to ask your swim instructor, ‘Will these lessons help my child to independently, without any floatation devices, get to the surface and get oxygen?’ And the answer needs to be, yes.”

You can learn more about ISR by clicking here.

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