Every night, Mandy Harry tiptoes into her 3-year-old son’s room, kneels at his bedside and prays. It’s become a nightly ritual since the day Calvin, the youngest of Harry’s six children, almost lost his life.

From pool party to panic

On the afternoon of Saturday, March 27, 2021, the Harry family was celebrating a flag football victory with a pool party at a friend’s house.

“We were having a great day,” Harry recalled. “There were maybe 15 or 20 adults there and lots of kids. Calvin was playing in the pool with his friends and his siblings, with his puddle jumpers [floats] on.”

After more than an hour of splashing around, Calvin approached his mom and asked her to remove his floats so he could get something to eat.

“I took them off and watched him walk into the house, and then I started chatting with a friend right next to the pool,” Harry said. Minutes later, she heard a sound she’ll never forget: her sister, Karen Brown, screaming Calvin’s name.

Heroes in action

Harry turned to see her little boy lying on his back on the pavement next to the pool.

“Calvin was lifeless. He was blue,” Harry remembered. “We picked him up and his arms were just hanging down.”

She started chest compressions but Brown, who takes annual CPR classes, quickly took over.

In shock, Harry still couldn’t quite piece together what had happened.

“Calvin had never gone into the pool before without his ‘puddle jumpers’ on, so I didn’t expect him to venture back in after I saw him walk inside,” she said.

The hero who spotted Calvin floating face down and pulled him out of the pool turned out to be 14-year-old Luke Dorow, a friend of one of Harry’s other sons, Nathan.

“If even just a couple more minutes had passed, we would be looking at a much different outcome,” Harry said. “I am so grateful for everything Luke did.”

Calvin’s comeback

First responders with St. Johns County Fire Rescue and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the home within six minutes. Because Dorow had already pulled Calvin out of the pool and Brown performed CPR, Calvin had a chance to survive.

The toddler was taken by ambulance to Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Medical Center South, where Dhaval Patel, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist with Wolfson Children’s and Emergency Resources Group, performed an evaluation and ordered a chest X-ray. Though the results were promising, the decision was made to transport him on the Kids Kare Mobile ICU to Wolfson Children’s Hospital’s main location in downtown Jacksonville for observation.

That night, Calvin was put into the care of Jeffrey Shirts, MD, a resident physician with the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

“We heard some sounds on his lung exam that made us a little concerned about water getting into his lungs, but he had no other symptoms,” Dr. Shirts explained. “All we could do at that point was watch and see which direction he would go from there. Thankfully, he improved and we were able to wean him off oxygen overnight.”

After one night of receiving high-flow oxygen – which helps open up the collapsed airways that often accompany non-fatal drownings – Calvin was given the all-clear to go home. He is now 100% back to normal.

What stands out to Harry most about Calvin’s time in the hospital is the compassion Dr. Shirts showed, sharing an almost identical story of his own.

“It was my older son’s birthday party a few years ago, and my younger son, Fynn, had taken off his life jacket so he could eat,” Dr. Shirts recalled. “We don’t know when or how he ended up back in the pool, but an older girl pulled him out. I remember feeling so powerless. We ended up on the same floor at Wolfson Children’s as Calvin. It has given me a small sense of the fear and uncertainty parents go through when their children are admitted. It definitely shaped how I interact with the parents as their doctor, especially the parents of kids with drownings like Calvin.”

Mandy Harry with her family
Mandy Harry with her family

Drowning dangers

With her son Calvin safely back home, Harry has vowed to dedicate her life to educating others about the dangers of pools and other bodies of water.

“I wish more people knew what drowning looks like,” she said.

Jessica Winberry, prevention coordinator with THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, said drowning is often fast and silent, not the loud splashing scene typically portrayed in movies.

“It does not take long for a child to lose consciousness underwater,” Winberry explained. “It only takes a few inches of water for a baby to drown, and it can happen in places like the bathtub, [the] toilet and buckets. Toddlers and younger children are more likely to drown in pools or retention ponds, and we see the highest risk for older children in open bodies of water like lakes, rivers and the ocean.”

To ensure kids stay safe in the water, Winberry recommends parents:

  • Assign a “Water Watcher” to actively supervise kids any time they are swimming. This designated adult should not be distracted by their phone, a book or conversations with others.

  • Stay within an arm’s reach of children at all times.
    Install multiple layers of protection around bodies of water. Door locks, alarms (for doors, windows and pool entrances) and fences around pools are a few examples of barriers. Remember, no single barrier is 100% effective!

  • Remove all toys and floats from the pool/water when swim time is over so a child does not try to reach for an item and fall in.

  • Get trained in CPR to provide life-saving care, should a child need it.

  • Enroll children in swimming lessons annually to keep skills sharp.

  • Use only United States Coast Guard-approved life jackets. Life jackets need to fit properly and be worn correctly. Products that are not USCG-approved are not considered life-saving devices.

While Harry learned all of this in the most difficult way possible, she is committed to spreading the word to prevent another family from going through a tragedy. In the meantime, she’s grateful for every night Calvin spends peacefully sleeping and the opportunity she once took for granted: to watch her boy grow up.

THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital provides child injury prevention information through Safe Kids Northeast Florida. Programs offered include water safety, car safety, infant safety, bike safety and home safety. To learn more, call 904.202.4302.