Sep 262011

SCOTTSDALE – What exactly does a “near drowning” mean? We hear the term all the time in Arizona, sadly. Often times we’ll tell you paramedics re-established a child’s pulse, and that child is now in critical condition. But what happens to these children after all that?

We met one Scottsdale family going through that very journey, 25 years after their near drowning tragedy.

“One minute one minute and you can’t take it back”ᆭ I ran outside and my dad was pulling my little brother from the pool. He was white, blue lips”ᆭ I never heard my mother scream like that,” recalls Lesia Crawford, Andrew Hill’s sister.

“I remember them putting him back in the ambulance. I remember seeing my dad cry for the first time, I’d never seen my father cry”ᆭ he was just covered in tubes and all sorts of machines”ᆭ you don’t know what to expect but it definitely changes your whole life.”

Andrew was 2 years old when he fell into his parents’ backyard pool. He was able to undo a lock on the door, and there was no fence in place.

He spent about 5 minutes underwater, suffering severe brain damage. Doctors predicted he wouldn’t live long — but Andrew is now a grown man.

“The doctors told us you can take him home to die for Christmas. Here he is 27 years old,” says Lesia.

Andrew is bed-ridden. His hands, legs, and feet are disfigured from no use. He can’t speak, but he can laugh.

The tragedy took a toll on every family member. Andrew’s parents’ marriage didn’t survive. Eventually a step mom entered the picture, admirably stepping into the role of wife, mother, and caregiver.

Terry Hill walks us through a typical day.

“First thing in the morning you have to turn him because he’s been in one position all night”ᆭ he’s allergic to so much the only protein we can give him is chicken or turkey or fish,” she says.

Everything must be pureed because he eats through a feeding tube.

“He gets broccoli and cauliflower that’s been cooked”ᆭ you have to give him so much then stop for a half hour let his stomach process and then give him the rest of his breakfast then you have to let that settle before you start doing percussions which is hitting his chest.”

There are daily breathing treatments, medication, and loads of laundry. And through it all, constant checks on Andrew. He can’t be left alone for more than 15 minutes, except at night.

“It takes two of us to put him to bed for the evening, you have to make sure he’s positioned correctly. Sometimes he’ll get a cramp in his muscles you have to rub it out or you have to hold his head or deal with that through the evening.”

For the Hills — it was never a question of whether to take on the responsibility of constant care for Andrew. But doctors say every family’s situation is different — with every non-fatal drowning — comes a very painful reality.

“We’ll get their heart rate back, blood pressure all of that, but then the hard decisions come about — where is that child going to be next week, five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now,” says Dr. David Beyda, Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “There’s a difference between being alive and having a life.”

This family’s plea: “Pay attention to your children, don’t look away for a second if they’re out playing in the pool you need to play with them,” says Lesia.

Especially those who may be a little more curious and independent.

“Those are the very same traits that are going to draw like a magnet that child to a pool,” says Terry.

“Don’t let that perfectly healthy child of yours turn into a lifetime of suffering for the family and for that child,” says Lesia.

So far this year 96 people have suffered injuries or have died in water related incidents. Doctors say anyone underwater for at least 5 minutes will likely suffer significant brain damage.

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