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May 17, 1998

Our backyard pool went off by accident Monday morning, and it nearly killed our little boy.

In reality, though, it wasn't an accident.

I knew the pool was loaded, and I left it Iying out in the sunshine, a silvery siren for an 11-month-old as fearless as Fosdick.

I didn't close the pool gate - which isn't much different from handing Connor a .38 and turning my back.

But thanks to God and a German shepherd named Greta, Connor is squealing and dancing his way around the house again, oblivious to the lesson his mom and dad will never forget: Even good parents can screw up, and kids will die for it.

It's a lesson I've heard and helped repeat scores of times while editing stories about accidents and tragedies for The Arizona Republic. I knew that survivors often end up horribly damaged, and that marriages often are destroyed by water "accidents." But the "accident" happened anyway.

It was cool on Monday morning when Greta and I got up before the rest of the household. Tina was in our bed with Jack, who was only 8 days old, and Connor was still sawing logs in his crib. I let the dog out the dining room door, propping the pool gate open so she could do her business in the grass and then come back to her water dish on the patio.

I closed the screen and the heavy French door. I was aware that the pool gate was open, but it wasn't a big deal because the door was shut. Too bad it wasn't shut tight.

Connor was exploring the family room when I headed to the bathroom, Republic in hand. I watched him crawl into the kitchen heard his hands slapping the hardwood as he went into the dining room. I figured he'd hang a left and make for the front room, where his toys are.

Greta suddenly went ballistic.

This wasn't a "Yo, cat!" bark, or a "That terrier's in our yard again!" bark. This was loud, crisp, urgent: "GET OUT HERE NOW!"

I did. As I hit the patio, I could see waves rolling in the corner of the shallow end and knew the worst had happened. Another step and there he was, floating on his back, lips blue, the water lapping against his little jumper, the one with duckies on it. It's an image that will drop the bottom out of my stomach for the rest of my life.

"CONNOR, NO" I screamed as I jumped in, thinking that my wife would kill me if I let him drown. I scooped him up to my shoulder and smacked him between the shoulder blades with my palm. Tina, awakened by Greta's bark, was at the door, frantic. She dialed 911 as I laid the boy on the carpet, turned him on his side and whacked him again on the back, hoping he'd cough or throw up.

I tried to open his mouth so I could try CPR. His jaws were locked, so I twice tried blowing into his nose. The gurgling noise I heard probably was air leaking past his cold, wet little cheeks, but his eyes opened! When he whimpered and squirmed a little, I knew that God had given me another chance.

The Fire Department arrived in what seemed like a heartbeat. Paramedics put Connor on an oxygen mask and hooked up some monitors while calming Tina and me and asking us what happened. After a minute or two, I carried him to the ambulance, where his mom took over for the ride to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.

By the time I got into dry clothes, gathered the baby bag and loaded Jack into the car, the TV crews were on the scene. Guess it was important for Phoenix to see the ashen father back out of his garage. Another film crew was waiting for Tina and our son at the ER. Connor missed his chance for a thumbs up for the cameras, but they mercifully didn't zoom in on Tina, who was still an understandable wreck.

Connor's vitals all were excellent, and by the time I made it to Orange Room No. 26 at the ER, he was charming the staff, laughing at his stuffed bear and dancing his head in a figure 8. A chest X-ray revealed no fluid in the lungs, but Connor was admitted overnight as a precaution.

Stinky old Greta, never a favorite of Tina, is queen of the house now. She got a brontosaurus bone from a shepherd admirer, a chunk of roasted chicken from me and a turkey treat from Tina.

But Greta will have to share her hero status with the fire crews and the staff at Good Sam particularly the folks who kept the reporters at bay while our family came to grips with what had almost happened.

I can't say which I felt more, shame, guilt or relief. When I went home to get a few things for the hospital stay, I went into Connor's room and fell to the floor in sobs, thinking of life without my Bubba. Thank you, dear God, that I didn't find out.

Tina, the family, the paramedics and the nurse told me to not blame myself, to look at the outcome. You saved your little boy by acting quickly, they said. Maybe so, but I also put him in harm's way by not making sure the gate and the door were closed. Accidents don't just happen, folks.

TV was all over the story at 4, 5 and 6 o'clock, pairing it with the recovery of the body of a young drowning victim from Bartlett Lake. Our story was the "happy" balance to that tragedy, and it had an animal hero, too.

The coverage was accurate, and our privacy was respected in a cutthroat market not known for its sensitivity on breaking news. We were amused that two channels sent helicopters over to shoot footage of the flip-flops I'd kicked off jumping into (or out of) the pool. Another shot video of Greta pacing the yard from the back yard of our neighbors, who have small children of their own. We hope to God that a TV crew never has to ask our permission to shoot tape of a near drowning in their yard.

By the evening, Connor's story was old potatoes. There had been another pool incident, and a little girl who had tumbled into a bucket and was pulled to safety.

And that's the problem. There are so many of these stories, we'll get used to hearing about the dangers of pools, how they're out there waiting like thugs in broad daylight. We'll think that we're too careful, that we're good parents, that these things only happen to screw-offs. But it's not true.

The slightest lapse around water can set off a chain of events with tragic consequences.

Try thinking of your pool as a pistol on the coffee table. Then go check the pool gate.

And even though I've learned my lesson, I know we're not out of the woods by any means. Jack will be crawling before we know it, and Connor on two feet will be even faster than Connor on all four.

He doesn't remember a thing about Monday, other than he got another teddy bear. In fact, a few minutes after we got home Tuesday, he jetted over to the dining room door, heading for the pool.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
©Copyright 1999 Arizona Republic

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