Nicole Hughes took teaching her kids water safety extremely seriously.
Her two older daughters had private swimming lessons as soon as they turned three and she made her youngest child, three-year-old Levi, wear a life jacket everywhere until he was ready for classes.
But despite giving him supervision in the pool at all times, it sadly wasn’t enough.
On June 10, while the Tennessee-based family was on their annual beach vacation in Fort Morgan, Alabama tragedy struck.
As she cleared the kitchen after dinner, she took her eyes off her kids momentarily to close a bag of Cheetos and suddenly Levi was gone.
Somehow he had slipped outside and down the stairs to the gated pool in the holiday home they rented. They found him face down in the water.
“My initial thought when I saw him in the water was, ‘That can’t be him, because he’s on the couch,'” Nicole tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Based on where he was in the pool, she thinks he was reaching for a toy, but she will never know.
Despite Levi’s dad Jonathan being a doctor, their efforts to revive him didn’t work. Levi was declared dead by 4 am on Monday, July 11.
His sudden death however, led the devastated mum to an idea.
“By that Monday afternoon I already had the idea in my head,” she said. The idea was a way to help make sure that in any home near water, there would always be an adult with an eye on the kids. “I kept thinking, literally, ‘Tag, you’re it. I’m tagging you in; it’s your turn.’ ”
Within a week, after planning her son’s funeral, Nicole was taking action, calling around to identity card makers to see how she could make those literal tags that say “I am the Water Guardian,” to hang around the neck of an attentive adult. The point is to have a physical reminder not to try to multitask while you’re in charge. And if anyone else sees you looking at your phone or leaving the room to do something, they can remind you too.
When she reached someone at InstantCard.net, not only did he agree to help her out, he gave her the email address of his friend, BJ Fisher, director of Health and Safety for the American Lifeguard Association.
“[BJ] emailed me back that night and said, ‘We truly believe this idea will save lives and are happy to endorse it,'” Hughes says.
So, while still mourning her son and raising daughter Lily, nine, and Reese, five, she has created the nonprofit Levi’s Legacy. The Water Guardian cards, which can be worn on a lanyard or a coiled bracelet, remind the wearer, “Constant supervision is the most effective way to prevent drowning.” In addition to watching small children while swimming, it suggests using the tag any time they have access to water, “even when not swimming (i.e., unloading the car, preparing dinner, etc….).”
The tags cost roughly $15 to cover the cost of production and shipping, though there is also a link for anyone who cannot afford to pay for them. There’s also the option to customise them with a photo, text, and logos.
The grieving mum’s efforts come at a time when drowning deaths are on the rise, with 280 deaths recorded in Australia in 2016.
While she doesn’t have exact numbers, Hughes estimates that she’s gotten more than 1,000 orders for tags since she did her first newspaper interview about her efforts, less than a month after Levi’s death.
“I was just sitting there crying watching those orders coming in,” she says. “I thought this is the absolute best and the absolute worst of the human experience.”
Royal Lifesaving Australia has some handy tips for parents involving pool safety at home that can be found here.
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