Mark Gubanyi

“Don’t be distracted – this little person’s life is in your hands”

April 1994 was the birth of Kaitlin and indeed I was the proudest father there could possibly be. Kaitlin became my little shadow. Her strong spirit and happiness for life reflected on all those around her.

Her favourite things were to go to the zoo, drawing, swimming, and catch-up with her Grandma and Grandad. Of course Wiggles were on the top of this list as well. Like every parent I could write forever on our time together. All those special moments. I was indeed blessed to have such a loving little daughter.

March 1999, one week from Kaitlin’s fifth birthday, everything changed.

It was late in the afternoon when I received a telephone call from Kaitlin’s mother. Kaitlin had been taken to hospital. Details were sketchy, but you think not of the worst. Broken arm, fallen over playing?

On arrival at the hospital I found out how wrong I was.

I was taken into the emergency room with Kaitlin’s mum. This did not look good. Doctors and nurses were crowded around Kaitlin. They didn’t need to say a thing, their facial expressions relayed to me the situation was desperate.

We were ushered into a parent room where the doctor briefly spoke with us. This was our glimmer of hope that they were going to attempt to stabilise her then send her up to ICU.

I was told that Kaitlin had gone to a little friend’s house after school and they both went for a swim. Her little friend’s mother had left them both alone in the pool, unsupervised. Kaitlin was found near lifeless at the bottom of the pool, with her little friend grasping to the edge.

We both sat for what seemed an eternity in that room, however it hadn’t even been 10 minutes when we were brought back to the emergency room. The doctors and nurses stepped back, their faces full of sadness. Despite their best efforts Kaitlin died. I lifted Kaitlin up in my arms and held her, just thinking, this can’t be happening.

People try to reflect how you feel. I guess those that read this that have lost a child will know. You are hit with a wave of shock that clouds everything. I look back now and think it is what helped me get through to the point of placing Kaitlin to rest. Each of us grieves differently, but one thing for sure there is an indescribable pain associated with the loss of a child.

There seems like a million questions that you want answered. While some can be answered there are others that cannot.

With my daughter now dead and having recently separated from Kaitlin’s mum, I had a few ways to go with this. Chuck the towel in and become someone I wouldn’t like or push on. I found running was a great escape and gave up on counting the miles and miles I ran.

I commenced doing some research on the number of toddlers that drowned in Western Australia and was horrified at the statistics. Toddler drowning is the number one preventable death in little people aged 0 to 4.

A Coronial Inquest followed and from this some positives emerged. It built a stronger working partnership for Royal Life Saving Society WA and local government in addressing pool safety.

After the inquest I was invited to speak on toddler drowning. I didn’t want to - I needed to. I did not want other parents going through what I was. As time went on I spoke more, and came on board with the Royal Life Saving Society’s “Keep Watch” Campaign as their Ambassador.

I don’t think you ever get over the loss of your child. Certainly there are those calendar dates each year and I often ponder on what Kaitlin would be doing now.

It saddens me each time I hear of another toddler drowning. This year has been tragic for some parents. But it isn’t only parents that are hit by this devastation, entire families, friends and associates are affected too.

I just ask everyone please - if you are in or around a body of water “KEEP WATCH” through constant adult supervision within arm’s reach. Don’t be distracted – this little person’s life is in your hands. 

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