Levi Hughes was 3 years old, on vacation with his family and five other families, when he slipped off the couch one evening last summer while the group was waiting for it to get dark enough for their annual crab hunt.
The family was renting a vacation home in Alabama with a group of friends stretching back to Levi’s father’s residency in cardiothoracic anesthesia.
“Our son drowned when there were six physicians in the room, 12 adults, 17 kids,” said his mother, Nicole Hughes, a writing teacher and literacy coach in Bristol, Tenn., who now works extensively in drowning prevention, including with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Everything I read about drowning before Levi died, it was like background noise,” Ms. Hughes said. “We think it’s happening to neglectful parents” who don’t watch their children when they’re swimming. But as she learned after Levi’s death, for most toddlers who drown, it doesn’t happen in the context of time spent “swimming” — that is, time they’re known to be in the water. And drowning is the leading cause of preventable deaths in children from 1 to 4.
“We took water safety very seriously — if you’d given me a list of 1,000 reasons one of my kids would die, drowning would have been the 1,000th,” Ms. Hughes said.
“He was on the couch in khaki shorts and a yellow crab-hunting shirt,” that evening. “I wasn’t on my phone. I wasn’t drinking,” Ms. Hughes said. “Of course, I relived these seconds a thousand times — how did we not see him go out that door?”