Andrea Wakefield

"You can't be complacent with children around water"

On the 7th August 2013 Andrea Wakefield did what so many working parents do, she kissed her inquisitive 14.5-month-old daughter Shelby goodbye as she headed out the door to get to work. But this was not going to be a day like any other - it was a day that would change her life.

That morning Andrea had an uneasy feeling she just couldn’t shake, in her words “something just didn’t feel right.” But Andrea had to work, so she continued on like it was any other day and her husband, Phillip, dropped Shelby at his mother’s house so that he too could get to work.

An image of Shelby WakefieldAndrea’s mother-in-law’s house was an older property that wasn’t required to have a pool fence, it simply had to have a self-closing back door. The door hadn’t been working properly and her father-in-law had run out of time to fix it the previous weekend. That morning Andrea’s mother-in-law went out to the drinks fridge, she thought she’d shut the door properly behind her but it turns out the door was not latched. Shelby - being the inquisitive little girl that she was - went outside to the pool and fell in.

Doctors believe that she hit her head on the way down, so wouldn’t have had any chance to resurface. While her grandma believed she was only gone for a few seconds, doctors think Shelby could have been under the water for as long as 20 minutes.

Just before lunch service began at the restaurant where Andrea worked she received a phone call from her husband Phillip. “He was hysterical and said to me ‘you need to leave, you need to go to Princess Margaret Hospital now! Shelby’s had an accident!’ I told him to calm down, but he just wouldn’t stop. Then he told me that Shelby was in an ambulance and suddenly I realised that this was serious.”

“He told me that she’d fallen in the pool at his mum’s house. I told him to go back to the beginning and explain what had happened because I couldn’t comprehend thewhole thing, and at the same time I had customers there asking me to serve them. Phillip said to me ‘you need to go to PMH, it’s really, really bad’ and I knew from his voice that it wasn’t good.”

After she put down the phone, Andrea was in shock but knew she had pull herself together, get to the car and drive to the hospital. As she arrived at PMH the ambulance pulled up too.

“It was a scene that no parent ever wants to see. One of the paramedics was on top of Shelby trying to give her CPR, she was all hooked up to all these machines and they were rushing her in. My mother-in-law arrived shortly after and we got ushered through to emergency. All we could hear was them frantically working on her, but then it went quiet in the room and the doctor came back and told us that we’d need to say goodbye.”

The doctors did manage to get Shelby’s heart started, but it was too late. By this stage Andrea’s parents, her in-laws and sisters were all there. “We all said goodbye and they turned everything off. I think her heart went for about a minute, but then it was just that sound that no-one wants to hear ever - the flatline of her heart.” The doctors then ushered the family out of the room and took them to another area where they spoke with police, hospital staff and a woman from Donate Life WA. Andrea and Phillip decided they would donate Shelby’s organs, so that she could save the lives of others.

The next few days and weeks were a blur, but Shelby’s death brought family and friends together in a way nothing else could. “My best friends, who were Shelby’s Godparents, were on holiday in Europe. I called them, they still had another three and a half weeks of their trip to go, but they cancelled their whole trip and returned home within 24 hours to support me. The news got around pretty quickly through work and a lot of my regular customers, but I think the most surreal feeling came at her funeral. When we were organising it the funeral directors asked how many people we thought would be there and we told them somewhere between 70 and 100, but we ended up having 300 there. All of my husband’s regulars from work came, all the regulars from my work and even girls from high school who I hadn’t spoken to in years.”

“Shelby is missed every day and there’s nothing we can do to bring her back, but she helped two more kids through us donating her organs.”

Andrea and Phillip have since had two more children, Harper and Austin. Harper has Shelby as her middle name. “My kids know about Shelby and that she’s up in heaven, so she is still very much a part of our family. But it doesn’t make it any easier. For Phillip it has been very tough because she was being looked after by his mum when she drowned.”

Andrea’s one hope is that Shelby’s death can help raise awareness so that other children’s lives can be saved. “We know that something terrible happened to us and we’re never going to get over it, but at the same time we want to make the best of that and tell the story of what happened so that people become aware of how it can be prevented."

"You can’t be complacent with children around water. Be aware of your surroundings, turn your phone off, take the headphones off, turn the TV off. While kids are in or around water; whether it’s a bath, the shower, the pool, the spa, whatever, just be really aware and Keep Watch.”


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