A Mother's Mission: Drowning awareness following toddler's tragic death

- The mother of a toddler who drowned in a pool on a family vacation is making it her mission to save children's lives by raising awareness. 

Nicole Hughes and her family were on vacation in Fort Morgan, Alabama for a beach trip with five other families. The mother of three took the trip every year so she knew the drill well. She was vigilant about water safety, keeping her kids in puddle jumpers or life jackets whenever they were close to the water, and lecturing them about water safety.

The family was enjoying themselves with their friends on a Sunday evening - when a tragedy shattered their world. 

Three-year-old Levi was watching TV with the other kids on the evening of June 10. The group had planned to search for crabs later the night, but that plan never came to fruition. 

Levi's mom, Nicole, had just given him half of a brownie and Cheetos puffs, when he slipped out the door. He went down the stairs, outside and into the pool. 

It was mere minutes before Nicole found Levi in the pool. She says the other half of the brownie was still in her mouth when she jumped in after him. "It was so quick."

The group of six dads - all physicians - rushed to the pool. "I have never witnessed such desperation. They fought physically, mentally, and emotionally to save him," wrote Nicole Hughes. 

Levi was rushed to Mobile Children's Hospital, where he later died. 

Nicole Hughes says just hours before her son's death she had carried him down the beach because the son was too hot for his tiny feet. She remembered him saying, "Mama, carry me, please! The sand is hot- it’s not hot for you, though, is it Mama?”

They walked past the pools and she asked him for what felt like the 100th time, “Levi, do you ever get in the water without Mama? Ever?” He responded, “Mama, no way. Then, you won’t get to see me again and we will be so sad.”

Hughes says there are a lot of misconceptions about drowning, and she wants to share Levi's story in hopes of saving lives. "There is a misconception that drowning only happens when you are swimming. Drowning happens when you are 200 feet away, upstairs, eating Cheetos and a brownie for dinner, when you are preparing to go crab-hunting, when you are already wearing your crab-hunting shirt. When you slip away from the huge group, when you leave your mom’s side, even though you are usually Velcroed to her. Drowning isn’t splashing and yelling. It takes seconds. Watch the pools, the ocean, the ponds, the streams," she wrote in a Facebook post. 

Hughes tells KTVU sharing Levi's story helps add chapters to a life that was cut too short. He's being remembered as a sweet, little boy with endless energy. "Levi was our baby boy, our caboose. He was 100 percent all boy- if it was loud or fast or messy or dirty, he loved it. He was full of energy but loved to snuggle in my lap," she said. 

Hughes has a tangible way to help prevent drownings. She says the best way to prevent drowning is to have a designated supervisor. She's created a Water Guardians: Levi's Legacy tag that can be purchased online. The tag is to be intended to be worn by adults when children are anywhere near water. Even inside a home, or while a car is being unloaded. The tag designates that person as the supervisor, who won't take their eyes off the kids.

According to the Levi's Legacy website, "Gates, alarms, and swimming lessons can provide some safeguarding against drowning, but constant supervision is vital, including when children are not swimming but have access to water (pool, lake, ocean, pond, etc…). When it comes to water safety, there is NO alternative to supervision"

Proceeds benefit Hughes' mission of raising awareness. 

You can learn more, and purchase a tag here. 

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