Without a sound, the 5-year-old boy was drowning.
He couldn’t yell for help because his head was underwater. He didn’t struggle. He didn’t splash. Only his hands, waving softly, broke the surface 30 yards from shore.
He didn’t look like the typical “drowning” that’s depicted in TV shows and movies. (Related story: Drowning doesn’t look like drowning)
“There was complete silence,” said Tracy White, who had taken her 8-year-old daughter swimming Sunday afternoon at Steele Lake Park in Federal Way.
White was enjoying the sunshine when she heard the boy’s mother on shore yell for help.
“I looked out toward the water and saw the little boy, with his head completely below water, and his hands were up,” said White, LPN, who works at Mary Bridge Pediatrics at the MultiCare Maple Valley Clinic. “I took off running and dived in.”
White, still wearing a sundress over her swimsuit, paddled out to where she had seen the boy.
“Just as I was about to reach out to him, he sank,” White said. “His body went limp and he was falling to the bottom. My heart was sinking. I thought, ‘It can’t happen this way.’ I told myself, ‘You have to try, you can’t give up. You just have to reach.’
“It was heartbreaking: I was reaching and he was sinking,”
“That’s when I decided to dive down,” White said. “I knew he was right in front of me, I just didn’t know where. I saw some shadows, so I dived down and reached and grabbed his arm.”
“He didn’t sink all the way to the bottom, which was good,” White said. “I don’t think I would have found him.
Back on shore
White dragged the boy back to shore. He was still conscious. White put the boy on his side. He started to cough, then cry.
White took control of the situation. She picked one woman from the crowd, asked her name, and said, “You call 9-1-1.”
While they waited for an ambulance, White noticed that the boy’s mom looked like she was about to faint, so White asked her to sit down next to her.
The mother sat, and began to cry.
“As a mom, that’s your greatest fear, losing your child,” White said. “I didn’t cry until I was home. Then I held my own daughter. I was very thankful. I'm just glad he's OK.”
Free loaner life jackets
Coincidentally, a few weeks earlier, White helped arrange for free loaner life jackets to be available this summer at the MultiCare Maple Valley Clinic.
“We have a lot of lakes around here, and lifeguards aren't always present,” White said. “It’s important to promote safety, and loaner life jackets are one way to do that.”
People can borrow them for up to two weeks, for both kids and adults.
Stop by the clinic at 24080 S.E. Kent Kangley Road or call 253-372-7680 or 425-413-1310.
Drowning is a leading cause of death in Washington. Drowning occurs primarily in open water such as lakes, rivers or Puget Sound. Ninety percent of those who drown were not wearing life jackets.
The Mary Bridge Center for Childhood Safety in Tacoma, as well as other locations, offer free loaner life jackets for short-term use on a year-round basis. For more information, call 253-403-1234.