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June 7, 2012

Our Neighbors: Son is lucky not to be a statistic

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Memorial Day weekend, usually the first time for outdoor fun when homeowners and communities open their pools, grills are fired up and children head outdoors for summer activities, has passed and the hot days of summer lie ahead.

With these hot days of summer comes the need to stay cool and swimming pools are a great place for family fun.

Drowning kills more American children 1 to 4 years old than any other cause except birth defects, according to the new federal statistics.

Colter Elza, the son of Kyle and Heather Elza, was not one of these statistics.

On a hot August afternoon, after swimming and playing most of the day with his brothers, Kyler and Cooper, and a 7-year-old cousin, Colter nearly drown in his grandparents Paul and Judy Elza’s inground pool.

Through tear-filled eyes and a quivering voice, Heather recalls the events of Aug. 5, 2011.

“It was only me and the boys. We had actually finished swimming for the day and went inside for a snack. I gave the boys a snack and they were watching TV while I was cleaning up my mother-in-law’s kitchen and packing our things to go home. I could hear the boys in the other room and assumed Colter was in there with them. He has always been a child to stay right with us and he has never been one to roam off on his own. I was washing the dishes at the sink and just happened to look out the window at the pool. It was then I saw Colter floating face down in the pool. I really don’t know how long he had been in the water. I had not even missed him. There were new  kittens he had been playing with that day. He may have went looking for them and the gate to the pool was left opened. When I saw him in the pool, I screamed out, ‘Oh God! Colter has drowned.’ My instincts kicked in and I ran and jumped in the pool and carried him out in my arms. He was completely unconscious and his color had turned blue. I really thought he was gone and I just remember praying to God, ‘Please don’t let my baby die. Don’t take my baby from me.’ The other boys came out and Kyler who was 7 at the time screamed at me, ‘Mommy, do something. Don’t let Colter die.’ I knew my sister-in-law Susan was home next door so I sent Kyler to call 9-1-1. I laid Colter on the ground and knew I had to do something. I told him how sorry I was and that I couldn’t live without him. I had CPR training years ago and could just remember to give breaths over his nose and mouth. I gave two breaths and started to perform chest compressions when he started coughing. I picked him up and he started crying and coughing more. I ran to my sister-in-law’s house to see if she had called 9-1-1. The ambulance was on their way. Colter threw up what seemed like gallons of water and, at that point, I knew he was not going to die. All I could do was hold him and tell him how much I loved him. He then got very still and started turning really pale. He became nonresponsive again and was giving me a blank stare. He was trying to fall asleep, and I knew we had to keep him awake. He was almost in a comatose state and I thought maybe he would have permanent brain damage. About that time, the ambulance arrived and they took over, placing him in the back of the ambulance. He started crying and screaming, ‘Mommy hold you.’ I rode with him in the front of the ambulance, and they reassured me he was going to be fine, they wanted him to cry.  His father Kyle was working in Lexington at the time of the incident and when he was called rushed to the hospital. I spoke with him on the phone during the ambulance ride and he kept telling us how much he loved us and he was on his way. He told me the most wonderful sound he has ever heard was hearing Colter crying in the ambulance because he didn’t know what to expect when he arrived. At the hospital, they started an IV and gave him oxygen. They also did a chest X-ray, CT scan and other tests. The doctors were concerned he may have water in his lungs and could still ‘dry drown.’ We were prepared to stay the night. The X-rays came back and his lungs were completely clear and his oxygen levels were back to normal. He was completely fine and we were released a few hours later. The EMTs told me how they had seen other accidents where the outcome was not like this one and how lucky we were. I don’t believe it was luck, but a modern day miracle. God was with us that day and used me to save Colter’s life. I give Him all the glory and thank Him for the strength and protection He gave us that day.”

After Colter’s incident, it was very hard for us to go back swimming. Instead of looking at the pool as the place that Colter almost lost his life, we look at the pool as the place our miracle occurred. Colter, who was just two weeks shy of his second birthday (Aug. 16), doesn’t remember much about that day.

“I know some of his remarks are from hearing me comment about that day. But a couple of weeks ago, out-of-the-blue, he starting talking about swimming saying ‘I don’t swim by myself or I will drown. I have to wear my froggie (his new floating device).’ He said he reached for the wall and then got choked. He also mentioned Susan helping.”

Colter is not afraid of the water when he is swimming with his mother or father, Kyle, and he always wears his floating device.

Their two older sons, Kyler, who is 8, is a good swimmer for his age and four-year-old Cooper still wear floaties. “But they are both very cautious of the pool and don’t swim alone.”

“I don’t know how much he remembers, or if he just senses something. Colter has always been a loving child, but he will hug me tight and say, ‘Mommy, I love you.’”

“The pool has always been fenced in and has two gates. That day one was left open, but since then my father-in-law installed a self-closing gate and when the pool is not being used the gates are locked.”

“I don’t know how many people have said to me, ‘We have a pool but no gate.’ Or ‘Our child fell in right in front of us, but we got them out.’  My advice to these parents and others is to have the pool enclosed with a self-closing and self-latching gate, never get comfortable around water, always be cautious of the pool whether you are swimming or not.  I would also recommend every parent have CPR training and train older children how to react in emergency situations.”

Today, Colter is a perfectly healthy, normal developing 2 1/2 year old boy. He is very active and loves playing ball and playing in the pool with family.

“As a mother, it is hard not to blame yourself, and I thank God daily for His blessings.”

sminton@sentinel-echo.com

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