Simone Soto Flores

“All we can do is focus on the positives and make sure Ari leads a full life”

Before June 2012, my son Ari was a healthy, energetic, independent 3 year old who was completely potty trained and could speak like a 5 year old. He loved his cuddles and going to daycare to see his friends. Ari also loved to have fun with his older brother and sister, watch movies and be involved with whatever was going on around him. He was a cheeky little character and would happily talk to whoever would listen.

On 27th June Ari went to the USA for a holiday with his dad, step-mum and siblings. Two days later our world changed forever. The family was staying on a houseboat and after waking up from a nap one day, Ari wandered outside and fell overboard. We don’t know exactly how long he was under water, but within minutes he was found lifeless and in all senses of the word “gone”.

His father started CPR straight away and through the amazing efforts of police and paramedics he was revived on the way to hospital.

I flew to America the next day prepared to say goodbye. When I arrived he was in an induced coma and lying on a cooling blanket to keep his temperature and brain swelling down. Although his heart was beating he was on complete life support and the odds were that he wouldn’t survive.

An MRI scan later revealed that he had extensive brain damage and would likely be in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of his life. He would never know us, show emotion, move, smile or laugh again. We could expect him to face a considerably shortened life expectancy due to the potential complications of pneumonia and for his life to be marked with frequent hospital admissions due to compromised lung health.

My little boy wasn't going to give up though. After six weeks in intensive care in the US, he had stabilised enough for us to fly home to Perth where he was admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital. Slowly Ari started to defy the odds. He breathed on his own, smiled and then laughed.

Ari has come so far since his accident. He now smiles, laughs and communicates through noises. He’s learning to use his hands, holding his head up by himself and trying to roll. He has gone from 15 different medications a day to zero.

The reality though is that Ari is a severely disabled little boy. He’ll require life-long care and therapy sessions, medical appointments, x-rays and special equipment are a constant feature in his life.

All it took to change Ari’s life was a lack of oxygen to his brain as the result of his drowning. My hope as an ambassador for the Keep Watch program is to put a face to something that is often unspoken. Many of the stories we hear are either about fatal drowning deaths or children who have emerged unscathed from a drowning incident. The majority of people don’t know what happens when a child survives a drowning but is left with severe brain damage.

Children under the age of 5 who sustain a brain injury slip into the medical system with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Finding information or knowing what life will be like for children with a drowning-related brain injury is incredibly difficult. I want to remove the taboo around what it looks like when a child drowns and doesn’t make a full recovery.

Toddler drowning is preventable but awareness is the only way forward for preventing other families from going through a tragedy like this. There are things we can all do to stop drowning happening.

When your children are around water, never take your eyes away, not even for a second. Even if your children are confident swimmers never leave them unattended.

All parents need to learn first aid. CPR can save a life! On a boat, children must wear a life jacket at all times, even when they’re indoors or napping. If Ari has been wearing a life jacket when he woke up from his nap on the boat then our story today would be very different.

We still don’t know what the future holds. All we can do is focus on the positives and make sure Ari leads a full life.

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