Sitting on the edge of our backyard spa with my legs dangling in the warm, bubbly water, I covered my face as my girls, Mahalia, nine, and Morgan, six, splashed each other.
‘You guys are driving me nuts,’ I joked, jumping out to dry off.
Leaving the girls in the spa, I sat close by, chatting with my husband Peter, 46, at the outdoor table.
As the afternoon went on, Morgan jumped out of the spa to dry off and joined Peter for a game of catch with our family dog, Libby.
Lying on a chair a metre away from the spa, I was soaking up the 38-degree summer sun when it suddenly became eerily quiet.
Feeling like something wasn’t right, I jumped up to check on Mahalia.
Seeing her lying face down, floating on top of the water, I assumed she was playing, holding her breath like she often did.
‘Mahalia,’ I called out.
But my girl didn’t hear me and, as I grabbed her arm, she didn’t even flinch.
'She's not breathing.'
Her body was still and floppy.
She’s drowned! I realised, screaming in horror.
By my side in an instant, Peter pulled our girl from the water.
‘She’s not breathing,’ he said, checking for a pulse.
Her skin blue, we lay her down on the burning concrete and Peter frantically began CPR.
‘Ring triple-0!’ Peter shouted.
‘You have dialled emergency triple-0. If you require information in relation to COVID-19 please visit healthdirect.gov.au,’ an automated voice droned.
Have I called the wrong number?
I wondered, feeling stupid for wasting time.
Hanging up, I dialled again.
Hearing the message for a second time, my heart sank as I waited for an operator to answer.
Feeling everything in slow motion, it was like time stood still, as I waited through the nearly 30-second long message.
‘Please come quickly!’ I pleaded with the operator when they answered.
Giving CPR for over five minutes, Peter felt a tiny flutter of a heartbeat and noticed two little air bubbles form at the bottom of Mahalia’s nose.
‘I think I’ve got her!’ he screamed, rolling her into the recovery position.
Coming to, Mahalia began coughing up blood, mucus and water, before letting out a blood-curdling scream.
Thank God, I thought, holding my baby’s hand.
Soon after, I heard sirens wail as the ambos arrived.
Disoriented and very weak, Mahalia was rushed to hospital for tests and monitoring.
Meanwhile, our friend Kat, who lives down the road, looked after Morgan.
'I think her hair was caught in the spa filter.'
Waiting patiently for results, we noticed Mahalia’s extremely matted hair – she’d been wearing it out in the spa, and now it was clumped into what looked like dreadlocks.
‘I think her hair was caught in the spa filter,’ Peter whispered to me.
‘I remember what happened!’ Mahalia, who’d overheard, said weakly.
Mucking around, our girl had slipped, and hit her head.
Knocking herself out, Mahalia had sunk to the bottom of the spa where her long blonde hair got caught in the filter.
Coming to under the water, Mahalia felt her hair being sucked into the filter, as she struggled to save herself.
My brave girl tried waving her fist in the air to grab our attention.
Then, she tried turning herself over and kicking her feet in the air.
As a final call for help, she faced towards us and silently screamed underwater before feeling her body give up.
‘I’m very sorry, I shouldn’t have been playing in the spa,’ Mahalia whimpered.
'Water is silent.'
Feeling tears stream down my face, I pictured Mahalia’s silent battle and felt helpless.
It was heart breaking.
After an excruciating three-hour wait, results came back.
‘Mahalia is clear of any suspected spinal injury, but there is a lot of liquid on her lungs,’ the doctor said.
Transferring Mahalia to Perth Children’s Hospital, she was moved from emergency to ICU where she was closely monitored for secondary drowning – a delayed reaction in the lungs – and remained on oxygen.
Coming home for a change of clothes that night, Peter inspected the spa.
Jumping in and reaching down, he pulled out a fistful of hair from the filter.
‘How did we not notice?’ I asked, tears welling.
‘Water is silent,’ Peter said gently, pulling me in for a hug.
Mahalia was given the green light to go home two days later, and we didn’t let her out of our sight.
Afterwards, we worried Mahalia might fear the water she once loved.
We’d got rid of our spa, so a week later, we went to a friend’s place for a swim in their pool.
Mahalia dipped her toes in the water, then slowly walked in with her arms above her head.
‘I’m ready to go under the water now,’ she sang out before diving under.
Shortly after Mahalia’s accident, that pre-recorded message was removed.
It’d been put in place after triple-0 was flooded by people calling with COVID-19 questions.
Now we’re teaming up with St John Ambulance to deliver first-aid courses and also raise awareness of water safety.
Six months on, we’re just so grateful to still have our courageous little girl.
She’s the ultimate fighter.