Nicole Hughes did everything she could to protect her toddler, but in a turn of events that is all too common, 3-year-old Levi lost his life on a night in June. Now, the grieving mother has a message for parents about unintentional drowning.

By Maressa Brown
Updated: July 26, 2018

Stats from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) like "about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger" are eye-openers for us all. But when attempting to guard and prepare children for the many dangers they could encounter on a daily basis, there are details we tend not to think about. Like the fact that even when your L.O. isn't swimming, there's a risk they may drown, if only because there's water nearby. That is just one stark, haunting reality a mom from Tennessee named Nicole Hughes wants to make other parents aware of in the wake of her 3-year-old's death. Levi Hughes was just 3 when he drowned during a family vacation in June.

The Hughes were visiting Fort Morgan, Alabama with six other families. In total, there were 12 adults and 17 children present, and all of the fathers are physicians. Levi had worn a life jacket almost all day, but he hadn't been wearing it in the relaxing time following dinner. And in just a few short moments, after dessert and while prepping her two other kids for an evening outing, Hughes peered over the balcony that overlooked the gated pool and saw Levi face down in the water. 

Although the parents and emergency responders did everything they could, Levi passed away that night. 

Now, Hughes is not only facing the unparalleled grief of losing her child, but she's intent on raising awareness about water safety. "Here I am, a grieving mother facing a future I would never have imagined. Lying in bed and sobbing will not bring him back (oh, but if it would). I don’t want this role of water-safety advocate. I want 30 seconds back on June 10. But I am determined to share these facts I so desperately wish I had known," she wrote in a piece on Scary Mommy

Her intense research on drowning lead her to found a non-profit called Levi’s Legacy. "My mission is to eradicate drowning completely," she wrote. She hopes to do that, in part, by creating a lanyard tag that says "Water Guardian." Similar to a lifeguard's lanyard, the Water Guardian tag is meant to be worn around the neck as a tangible reminder of who is responsible for watching the kids. It can be ordered online, and it has been endorsed by the American Lifeguard Association

"Knowing Levi's story, my heart feels so harmed," says BJ Fisher, Director of Health and Safety for American Lifeguard Association, Inc. "We feel this is a truly worthy cause, and it’s a movement that really will save a lot of lives."

In addition to the tags, Hughes would like to see signs posted on beach houses, lake houses, vacation homes, etc. that remind adults to be on watch any time children have access to water. "The research consistently proves there is no alternative to supervision when it comes to water safety," Hughes told The Tennessean. "Levi got out of a heavy door and the pool had a fence. And, both of his parents—and several other adults—were in the room when he slipped away for a moment."

It's a startling but all too important detail that Hughes hopes to spread awareness about: Drowning can occur at any time, not just when L.O.s are swimming. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the youngest children most often drown in pools, hot tubs and spas—and 69 percent of kids who drown were in the water unexpectedly.

"It is not a guarantee that Levi would still be here if I had known the truth about drowning, had heard about it at any of my pediatrician visits, or read it in a parenting book," she tells Parents.com. "But I just wish I had known what I was up against: that drowning is quick and it is silent."

The bottom-line for the grieving mom: "I can't sit here for the rest of summer and read news story after news story about other children drowning," she told The Tennessean. "I can't bring Levi back, but I can sure as hell try to save someone else's baby." 

Her valiant efforts are sure to promote awareness and safety in order to do exactly that.  

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