It's every parent's worst nightmare: dry drowning.
This awful phenomenon occurs when a person, often a child, takes in a small amount of water through the nose or mouth, causing a spasm in the airway, which then closes up. It can happen soon after the child exits the water. In some cases, though, the water that enters the lungs can cause inflammation or swelling that makes it difficult or impossible for the body to transfer oxygen to carbon dioxide and vice versa. In this case, the person often doesn't show symptoms right away, but develops signs of distress up to 24 hours later.
It happened to 4-year-old Frankie Delgado III. His father, also named Frankie, recently talked to People magazine about his little boy's untimely and tragic death due to dry drowning. Sadly, Delgado admits he'd never heard of dry drowning until having too much water in his lungs "sent [his son] to Heaven."
Shockingly, Frankie didn't pass away until a week after the family visited the Texas City Dike. It was there, standing in knee-deep water, that a wave hit Frankie, and that is when Delgado believes he must have inhaled some water.
A few days later, Frankie began to show signs of distress, like vomiting and diarrhea, but his family didn't know this was connected to their time at the water, as most parents probably wouldn't. "Him throwing up, vomiting, there's nothing uncommon about that. We didn't think [Frankie] was gonna pass away or anything like that," Delgado told People.
Little Frankie would later exhibit shoulder pain, and then trouble breathing. "He just grabbed his chest and screamed," his heartbroken father painfully recounts about the night his son died, seemingly out of nowhere. "He took a deep breath and his eyes kind of rolled back, then he laid back down. I got up, I said, 'Frankie, wake up!' All of a sudden, he exhaled. I picked up his shirt and I couldn't see his [chest] moving."
The little boy was rushed to the hospital where he, unthinkably, passed away. Now, the Delgado family is bravely sharing their story in the hopes that what happened to the son they cherished will not happen to anyone else.
For me, the most frightening aspect is that Frankie got sick slowly, over the course of a week, so you wouldn't necessarily link his symptoms to having spent time in the water. My kids swim in a nearby lake every day, which is terrifying in light of this story. And as Delgado says, it really could happen to any family.
Parents can take solace in the fact that dry drowning is very rare, but it's still important to know the signs, which can occur hours or days after swimming: coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing, and seeming disoriented or sleepy. If your child exhibits these symptoms, seek medical attention right away. Because clearly, you can never be too careful.
In some happy news, a father in Colorado saved his son from dry drowning after reading about little Frankie Delgado's tragic story. Staff Sgt. Garon Vega told KTRK-TV that 2-year-old son Gio went swimming and swalled some water. Soon after, little Gio developed a fever and had trouble breathing. After seeing Frankie's story, Vega took Gio to the ER, where the doctor told him his son would not have made it through the night.
"I feel like I needed to reach out to the parents of little Frankie and tell them...their little boy saved our little boy's life," Vega said. "There was a purpose. It was an unfortunate thing that happened, but if I had not told my wife that he swallowed the water, and if she had not seen that article, I think we would've ended up dispelling it as a regular sickness."
You can help the Delgado family pay for the horrible burden of a funeral for little Frankie by visiting their GoFundMe page.