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We thought she drowned

A 1.3m pool fence was no barrier for this adventurous toddler.

Natasha Mitchell, 21, Ellenbrook, WA

Watching my daughter Kaylee, three, splash in the pool, I was amazed at how brave she was.

'She's not afraid of the water,' I boasted to my partner Brendan, 24, who was holding her. He laughed. 'My girl's not afraid of anything,' he said proudly.

Kaylee had always been an adventurer. She'd started crawling at six months and walking at nine months. She was always climbing over furniture and galloping around the backyard. 'Be careful,' I'd constantly remind her. 'I'm okay Mummy,' she'd giggle.

In August this year I decided to look for a part-time job. I needed the cash and fancied doing something different.

'My friend Naomi* is looking for a nanny to mind her seven year old, Clare* after school,' my mum Marcia, 42, told me one afternoon. 'You'd just need to go over to their house for a few hours every day. You could take Kaylee.'

'It sounds great,' I agreed. 'When can I start?'

A week later it was all arranged and Kaylee and I were picking up Clare from school.

'D'you want to play?' Kaylee asked when we got back to her house. Clare nodded and the two of them were soon racing around the backyard together.

It won't be long before they both want to go in for a swim, I thought, seeing the gleaming pool in the garden. Fortunately it had a sturdy 1.3m-high fence around it so I wasn't worried about them falling in.

Over the next three weeks Kaylee and I continued to babysit. Then one Thursday, just as I'd predicted, the issue of the pool was finally raised.

'Can I go for a swim?' Clare asked. 'It'll be too cold,' I said. 'Let's go to the park instead.'

I wasn't sure I wanted the responsibility of two kids in the water.

When we got home from the park, the girls started playing in the bedroom, but dolls weren't enough to distract Clare. 'Please can we swim?' she begged.

'Let's call and ask your mum,' I sighed at last. Clare grabbed the phone and I spent the next five minutes listening to her plead her case.

As she hung up, I glanced out the window at the pool. Squinting in the bright sunlight, I noticed a pink T-shirt lying at the bottom of the pool. That looks like Kaylee's, I thought.

But as I looked closer I saw a body attached to the T-shirt. 'That's Kaylee!' I screamed, racing out the back door.

I ran across, yanked open the pool fence gate and threw myself in the water. Gasping for breath, I snatched Kaylee's limp body from the pool and heaved her up onto the side.

Scrambling out, I couldn't believe what was happening. Kaylee's eyes were open and covered in speckles of blood, and her body was blue.

Putting my ear to her chest, I couldn't feel or hear her breathing. 'Kaylee!' I shrieked.

I started shaking her body, willing her to open her eyes. But she didn't move.

Suddenly the next-door neighbour Megan, 34, was by my side. She must have heard me screaming. 'What happened?' she asked, checking Kaylee for a pulse. 'I don't know. I found her in the pool. She… she must have climbed the fence.'

Breathing into Kaylee's mouth, Megan started CPR. 'Call an ambulance,' she ordered.

I ran inside and frantically dialled Triple-0. Clare stood looking at me in shock. 'Is Kaylee all right?' she asked shakily. But I couldn't answer. I didn't know what to say.

'How long has she been under water?' the operator asked when I got through. 'At least five minutes,' I said, starting to cry. 'My neighbour's doing CPR.'

'Tell her to keep going with the CPR, and an ambulance will be there soon,' came the reply.

I slammed the phone down and raced back to Kaylee.

'Please wake up for Mummy,' I pleaded. Megan had been going for about 10 minutes when suddenly Kaylee's little eyelids flickered. Her chest slowly started to rise by itself and water dribbled from the corners of her mouth.

'She's alive,' I gasped, a lump rising in my throat. 'Mum?' Kaylee said in a little voice.

'I'm here,' I choked as Megan turned her on her side to empty pool water from her lungs.

At that moment, the ambulance officers arrived. Checking her over, they wrapped her in towels to keep her warm. 'We'll need to take her to the hospital to see if there's any brain damage,' one officer said.

Holding Kaylee's trembling hand, I nodded numbly. 'But the CPR saved her life,' he added.

'Thank you so much,' I said to Megan, hugging her tightly before I got into the ambulance.

Minutes later we were speeding towards Princess Margaret Hospital, mounting curbs and whizzing through traffic lights to get there.

On the way I called my twin sister Sherrie. I was too nervous to break the news to Brendan. What would he think of me letting our daughter stray into the pool? 'I'm such a bad parent,' I sobbed to Sherrie.

'It was an accident. The main thing is that she's alive,' Sherrie reassured me. 'I'll call Brendan, Mum and Dad then I'll meet you at the hospital.'

When the ambulance pulled up at the hospital, a team of emergency doctors were waiting in the driveway.

They wheeled Kaylee into intensive care and X-rayed her.

As I waited nervously for news Brendan arrived with Sherrie, Mum and my dad Gary, 44.

'I'm so sorry,' I whimpered, falling into Brendan's arms.

'It's not your fault,' he said. 'Kaylee's going to be okay.'

An hour later a nurse ushered us to Kaylee's bed, where a doctor was checking her blood pressure.

'She's very lucky,' he said. 'There's no permanent brain damage, there's no water left on the lungs, there's not even a cracked rib from the CPR.'

'It really is a miracle,' I said, clutching Kaylee's hand. 'We're not letting you out of our sight again,' Brendan choked.

The next morning Kaylee was discharged from hospital.

Mum drove us home and in the car I asked Kaylee what happened that dreadful day.

'I climbed the fence, Mummy,' she whispered to me. 'I wanted to go swimming.'

I looked at her sternly.

'You are never to do that again,' I told her, amazed that a three year old could have such determination and strength to get over a pool fence all by herself and totally unnoticed.

Today, a month has passed since Kaylee's accident.

I'm still babysitting Clare, only we go home to my house now and Kaylee is taking swimming lessons.

Now I never take my eyes off Kaylee for even one second, especially around water.

All pools are legally required to have fences, but I know from bitter experience that they don't stop some children.

I urge other parents to be vigilant with their children around pools, especially in the run up to summer. We're so lucky Kaylee is alive but I'd hate to think another mum might not be so fortunate.

*
Name has been changed.


pool safetyHow to stay pool-safe

Between 2006 and 2007, 16 children drowned in home pools. It's required by law that all swimming pools have an appropriate child-restraint barrier. Fences and gates must be at least 1.2m tall, railings must be no more than 100mm apart and gates must close and latch automatically.

Always supervise kids near water, take a CPR course and enrol them in swimming and water-safety classes. Classes are run for children as young as three months old.

Do you know anyone who has escaped death? Let us know by commenting below.

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