SPECIAL REPORT: The facts about secondary drowning - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

SPECIAL REPORT: The facts about secondary drowning

Asa, who was two years old at the time, nearly drowned three hours after leaving the pool. (Source: Blackman Family) Asa, who was two years old at the time, nearly drowned three hours after leaving the pool. (Source: Blackman Family)
It's a nightmare the Blackmans will never forget and one they hope other parents won't ever have to experience. (Source: WSFA 12 News) It's a nightmare the Blackmans will never forget and one they hope other parents won't ever have to experience. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Experts say secondary drowning can happen to anyone, no matter the age, in a pool, lake or even a bathtub. (Source: WSFA 12 News) Experts say secondary drowning can happen to anyone, no matter the age, in a pool, lake or even a bathtub. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
After being in the water, there are definite signs to look for when it comes to secondary drowning. (Source: WSFA 12 News) After being in the water, there are definite signs to look for when it comes to secondary drowning. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

If you're a parent of a little one, summer is the prime time to be concerned about water safety and the risks. We all know about drowning, but what about what's called secondary drowning, when someone dies hours after leaving the water?

Parents have probably seen all kinds of stories on this topic on Facebook and other social media sites. For many it's alarming and confusing, so we are separating fact from fiction so you can be prepared.

The Blackman family is a typical, growing family. Darren and Jill have three sons, Hunter, Asa, and Alex, and a little girl on the way. Yet just three years ago, the family dynamics could have been drastically different.

"It was scary at how close we were to losing him," Jill said.

Asa, who was two years old at the time, nearly drowned three hours after leaving the pool.

"I heard him coughing but this time it was more of like a choking cough. I said 'Asa are you okay?' and his eyes rolled back in his head and he started moaning," Jill said as she recounted that day.

They rushed to the emergency room and made it just in time for doctors to save Asa from drowning, in what doctors call secondary drowning.

"We were terrified," Jill said.

"It was kinda, just in time to get him turned around," Darren said.

Dr. Jeffrey Simon is a pediatrician at Pediatric Healthcare.

"Secondary drowning is where a little bit of water might get inhaled into the lungs but not enough to cause a drowning but that water can act as a strong irritant," Simon said.

Here's how it happens: Someone ingests water, which can happen in just a matter of seconds. During that time, a portion of the water gets inside the lungs. The body works to get rid of the unwanted water by excreting more liquid and within one to 24 hours, the lungs fill up with fluids.

"Drowning might be filling up the lungs from the outside in, but the secondary drowning is more from the inside out," Simon said.

Experts say secondary drowning can happen to anyone, no matter the age, in a pool, lake or even a bathtub.

"A 1-year-old who is taking a bath, slips in the bathtub, head goes under and gasps," Simon said.

After being in the water, there are definite signs to look for when it comes to secondary drowning.

Doctors say watch for extreme fatigue, difficulty breathing and change in behavior.

"Look for a child who is working harder breathing, who is breathing heavier and faster," Simon said. "You may look for a child who just isn't acting right or normal."

It was differences the Blackmans noticed on that near fatal day.

"It wasn't a normal tired, it was a very lethargic tired," Jill said. "The coughing wasn't a normal cough, it was like a choking cough."

The doctors were able to get Asa's lungs and body back to normal. It's a nightmare the Blackmans will never forget and one they hope other parents won't ever have to experience.

"It happens, it's real," Darren said. "If we hadn't taken him to the doctors and had just let him go to sleep, he wouldn't have woken up. To anyone out there who doesn't believe this is real, watch because I would hate for someone to lose a child because they didn't believe in it."

"God was looking out for us because he may not be here if it hadn't been for that,"  Jill said.

Here's the good news: Secondary drowning is rare, only causing 1 to 2 percent of drowning deaths.

Doctors say if your child possibly had an episode in the water but has no signs of extreme fatigue, acting different, or trouble breathing, they are probably just fine. Doctors say there's no need to lose sleep at night worrying that this is just another thing your child will fall victim to.

Even the Blackmans say their children all still go swimming, they just know what to look for and don't ignore any concerns.

The most important thing you can do as a parent is trust your instincts. If concerned, go to the emergency room. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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