Secondary drowning rare but potentially deadly

BALTIMORE - For every child that drowns, five more are rushed to the hospital for near drowning incidents.

"That was the worst day of our lives. We received a phone call and they said Connor was found floating beneath an empty lifeguard chair in five feet of water," said Debbie Freed, who's 5-year-old son, Connor, drowned eight years ago.

"To us, honestly, it still feels like yesterday some days," she said.

Connor was at a pool with family friends when he went under.

"You never recover from the loss of a child, but you can make something good from your tragedy. I just thought, we need to do something about this," Freed said.

A law has since been passed in his name, and the Connor Cares Foundation raises support and awareness. But it goes beyond just drownings like Connor's. In some cases, it's after you rescue your child from the pool that you need to be more alert than ever.

"A lot of the stories that we see when the patients come in here to the ER is, 'Oh, Johnny went under water and we noticed and we pulled him out. After maybe two minutes he was out of it, he was a little blue, we pumped his stomach, he vomited, and then he seemed fine," said Dr. Melissa Sparrow, Director of In Patient and Emergency Pediatrics at GBMC.

Typically, near drowning victims are fine. But Dr. Sparrow says the 24 hours after an incident in the pool should be checking any signs of secondary drowning.

"Just watch them. Their chest and their neck. Or even watch as your child is sleeping. The movement of the chest, the abdomen shouldn't be going up and down, you shouldn't see all these accessory muscles. You shouldn't see an indentations here," she said.

Secondary drowning can happen hours after a near drowning incident. Dr. Sparrow says it can happen with just a little amount of water in the lungs. "Your lungs will fill with fluid, but it's not fluid from the water source, it's fluid from your own body. It's leaky vessels and you leak into your lungs and you develop a Pulmonary Distress Syndrome," she said.

She says secondary drowning is very rare. So far this summer, they've seen two patients in the Emergency Room after near drowning incidents. Both, she says, recovered fine.

"The body is amazing in what it can tell you if you watch it closely. Especially if you know what the body looks like when it's normal. And when there's something off, our gut, our intuition, is very powerful," she said.