LILBURN — Even with a wave of drowning and near-drowning incidents flooding Gwinnett County in recent weeks, Nancy Hearn never thought her Alex would be involved.
Alex, a 14-year-old with high-functioning autism, has gone to the pool at their Ridgeland Forest subdivision year after year, day after day, she said. He swims laps and has a habit of resting while floating on his stomach afterward, staring at the pool floor through his goggles.
Monday, habit nearly turned to tragedy.
Completing his laps, Alex didn’t spring up after his usual ritual. Noticing something wrong, his brother and a lifeguard, both 16, sprung into action, lifting his 250-pound frame out of the Lilburn pool.
“The kids were going to throw the ball to him, but one of them noticed he hadn’t come up for about a minute,” said Cody Rogers, the first-year lifeguard who saved Alex with CPR. “He hadn’t reacted.”
As far as they can tell, Alex just dozed off — “the last thing he can remember is he was floating around on his stomach and thinking about how tired he was,” Nancy Hearn said.
Thanks to his brother, Christopher, the lifeguard and other pool-goers who assisted, Alex is OK.
Two Gwinnett children in the last nine days, however, weren’t.
On Father’s Day, a 4-year-old girl at the Durant at Sugarloaf apartments pool with her dad and sibling submerged just before 7 p.m.
She died shortly after arriving at Gwinnett Medical Center.
Last Monday, 7-year-old Daniel Ha Min Byoun went under at the complex pool at the Amli at McGinnis Ferry apartments in Suwanee.
He later passed away at Emory Johns Creek Hospital.
Wednesday, two more near-drownings occurred: a 3-year-old who made his way from the kiddie pool to the adult pool undetected at a Hamilton Mill subdivision, and a 16-year-old swim team member who temporarily blacked out at the Rivermist subdivision pool in Lilburn.
“It’s been a pretty busy summer season already,” Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Tommy Rutledge said.
In 2009, GCFD responded to 23 reports of near drownings, a stat that includes their patrols of Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River, Rutledge said.
This year, they’ve already responded to 21 near-drownings — including six in the last two weeks.
“We think it’s just simply the fact that school is out and more people are doing things around their pool,” Rutledge said Wednesday. “It’s relatively inexpensive and it’s fun to do. The water is cool, it’s inviting, it’s adventurous. But people need to understand that it’s also extremely dangerous.”
Among other suggestions, Rutledge and the fire department encourage pool-goers to follow the ABC’s of water safety.
A: Make sure an adult is present, and be alert to your surroundings.
B: Make sure you have barriers between the swimming pool and children.
C: Take classes, whether it be a CPR class, swimming lessons for children or classes on water safety.
And remember, Rutledge stressed, “even if the lifeguard is on duty, the parent is still responsible for their own child.”
The fire department also offers water safety classes. Visit www.gwinnettcounty.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Nancy Hearn was not at the neighborhood pool when Alex had to be resuscitated, but Monday’s incident served as a wake-up call.
“I know from experience that parents get distracted,” she said. “They’re talking with their friends, maybe having a beer, and they may not be watching as closely as they think they are. It only takes a few minutes and your whole life is changed.”
Added Rogers, the lifeguard: “It can happen to anybody. Even if you look healthy, anything can happen ... Even the most subtle things, you always have to be ready for anything.”
Alex Hearn was back at the pool Tuesday afternoon, with his brother and the young hero lifeguard keeping a close eye on him and the other pool patrons.
In a summer already tainted with waterborne tragedy, he was one of the lucky ones.
“My message (to other parents) is to quit taking it for granted that you’ve been going there year after year after year,” Nancy Hearn said. “Because you never know when the kid that you least suspect to is going to be in trouble.”