Dad to the rescue: training saves toddler from drowning
"Just 30 seconds more, and we would have been having a funeral today..."
Andrew Hamming's voice trails off as he ponders yet again what might have been...
Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, ever-smiling Harlon - his 18-month-old toddler - is meantime oblivious to the special attention he is receiving, following his brush with death on New Year's Day.
Back home at Melinga (near Cundletown) yesterday, the charming little toddler scoots around on a three-wheeled trike, his bottle of milk clutched firmly in his teeth.
There's nothing to indicate the trauma that took place just 48 hours beforehand, when Harlon was plucked from the family swimming pool. Unconscious, not breathing, and blue around the mouth, he was probably just 30 seconds from death.
But thanks to the prompt action of his dad and the family's holiday visitors, Harlon has survived his near-drowning and brought home to all the vital message of water safety awareness and first aid training.
"He would have died," Andrew said yesterday. "Had he stayed in the pool for another 30 seconds, we would have been holding a funeral... I just hate to think about it..."
Andrew and wife Heidi are parents to four lively children, with a fifth due in March.
Harlon's siblings - seven-year-old sister Montana and brothers Braxton, five, and Archer, two-and-a-half, are never far away, constantly watching and playing with him.
Their rented house at Melinga has an idyllic inground pool, which means lots of fun for the children and their visitors in the holidays.
"All of our kids have been swimming by the age of two," Andrew says. "We're always out here with them."
On Saturday - New Year's Day - around noon, all the family and a group of cousins from Tamworth were enjoying the pool when Andrew went inside for a few moments just to grab dry towels.
Harlon was sitting on the pool step, others were in the pool. Five adults were present.
Andrew re-lives what happened next...
"I walked past Harley, got two towels (from inside) and threw one at my mate Shaun and said 'Where's Harley?'
"I couldn't see him, then Makayla (a cousin) shouted 'He's there!'"
Harlon was in the water near the step, floating motionless, face down.
"There were five adults there... not one of us heard a splash," Andrew recalls.
He says the next few minutes seemed like an eternity, but in all reality was probably just 30 seconds.
Twenty-year-old Makayla picked Harlon up, Andrew grabbed his lifeless little body and lay him on the pool surround.
"He was blue around the mouth... not breathing. His eyes were open, but there was no-one home. It freaked me out."
Luckily for Harlon, his dad has a Certificate 1V Emergency Medical Technician, gained in Cairns two-and-a-half years ago.
Harlon's grandparents (Andrew's parents) are both professionally trained educators: Michael is clinical educator at Manning Base and Merilyn is a training officer with local business First Aid Training Supplies.
"I also did a course with them three months ago, hoping I'd never need it," Andrew says.
"My brain froze for an instant, but then I started to think and everything I'd learnt came into swing," Andrew's mate Shaun kept prompting him.
"He made me think about what to do next. It's amazing how fast the brain works in this sort of situation.
"I just can't get the image of Harley out of my head," Andrew
continues, describing the moment his little boy was handed to him.
"When Makayla lifted him up... I thought he was gone."
"I laid him down on his side. His belly was full of water and protruding. That's what happens, and when it does it means his lungs were forced up, so he couldn't breathe.
"I gave him just a hint of a squeeze, and water came out of his mouth everywhere."
Harlon's reflex action meant he was trying to breathe, so Andrew cleared his airway and gave him a life-saving breath.
"I forgot to pinch his nose, however, and my breath blew more water out his nose.
"I pinched his nose and gave him just a little mouthful of air.
"He started crying... it spun me out... it was just insanely good."
Mum Heidi, who has also done CPR and first aid courses, went to pieces from the moment Harlon was found in the water.
Not able to face the sight of her baby in trouble, she raced inside, rang OOO and called an ambulance.
Throughout the call "I kept yelling 'Save him Andrew.... save him!' but I couldn't look at him.
"Then Andrew yelled from the verandah 'He's breathing!' I've had to do CPR on my best friend at a rodeo, and that was no problem. But when it's your own baby it's different."
Heidi estimates it was probably less than 15 minutes before two paramedics arrived in the ambulance from Taree.
"They were wonderful. Both ambos were off duty. They'd been on duty all through the night (New Year's) Eve and had been out in a boat with their families that morning. They were in their uniforms and out here, I reckon in 11 minutes."
In the meantime the Westpac rescue chopper had been despatched and was preparing to land at Taree Airport.
Heidi went with Harlon in the ambulance, and in the chopper to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.
"It was surreal", Heidi recalls of her first ever helicopter flight. It's a situation she hopes no other parents ever have to endure.
"I remember most of the flight... seeing Forster, Stockton and then the hospital in no time at all."
Less than two-and-a-half hours from Harlon's fall into the pool, cradled in Mum's arms and both of them pushed in a wheelchair, he was in the Newcastle hospital receiving specialist attention.
"He had water still on his lungs and was receiving oxygen. He kept wanting to go to sleep. All that afternoon he wouldn't cry, he wouldn't eat and he wouldn't drink."
But that night, with his mum beside him on a fold-out bed, Harlon slept the hours away.
"Every time I heard a beeper going off I thought he wasn't breathing, but he was fine.
"The next morning when the breakfast cart arrived, he started jumping up and down in his cot. He polished off two WeetBix, a piece of toast, some fruit and custard, and a bottle of juice.
"He was so fit he was trying to climb out of the cot and in frustration was hitting me with his teddy bear."
Harlon spent 24 hours in hospital, and was soon back at home. Not knowing how he would react to the sight of the pool and his sister and brothers swimming, his parents were cautious.
"On Sunday afternoon he got his swimmers on, I hopped in the pool and put my arms out to him. He ran and jumped into the pool with me," Heidi says.
Yesterday, Harley was oblivious to all the fuss, as he joined his family for a cherished 'portrait' beside the pool.
Andrew and Heidi agreed to tell their story in the hope that it sticks in the mind of parents everywhere. Theirs was one of six similar near-drowning incidents across New South Wales on Saturday afternoon alone.
"Don't turn your back... not even for 30 seconds. That's all it was and we might not have had him with us today. We know we are blessed.
"And $145 - that's about what a CPR course costs.
"It's everybody's duty... just do it," Andrew advises.
Fatal attraction for toddlers: See Sydney Morning Herald link
http://www.smh.com.au/national /fatal-attraction-fearless-toddle rs-drawn-to-water-20110104-19ep6. html