Parental Advisory: Beware ‘Secondary Drownings’ in Children

Lindsay Kujawa has chronicled every standout moment in her short journey as a mother in her blog, Delighted Momma. One post last month chronicled the near-death “secondary drowning” of her nearly 2-year-old son, Ronin.

“It was a moment where once the shock set in as to what might actually happen a thousand memories, regrets… things that I wish I had done differently that day flashed through my mind,” wrote the Murrieta, California, mother.

This is what happened to Ronin: Kujawa, 28, was sitting by a jacuzzi and Ronin was in the hot, swirling water when Ronin started bobbing below and above the surface. She says she was with him in a flash and within a moment or two, he was coughing up water. After crying for nearly a minute, he was calm, according to Kujawa.

But after returning home, Kujawa observed Ronin acting lethargically, but not in the normal cranky way that told her he wanted a nap. “He also started doing this weird cough that made him tense up every time he exerted the effort,” Kujawa wrote. Then she wondered, “Maybe he was still just trying to cough up any water from earlier.”

She called her pediatrician and was told to get Ronin to the emergency room immediately. There, an x-ray revealed that Ronin had nearly suffered a secondary drowning, something that Kujawa had never heard of before. Though the x-ray “had shown that the water trapped in his lungs was beginning to clear significantly… the not-so-good news was that he had chemical pneumonitis due to the chemicals from the spa getting trapped in his lungs. His lungs were irritated and inflamed but [the emergency room doctor] told us that things were looking better despite the diagnosis.”

This type of drowning‘s symptoms: lethargy, mood swings and difficulty breathing.

“I am forever changed since this happened,” Kujawa wrote. “I will not let this define me, but you can guarantee that I will be doing things much differently from here on out. It was a huge wake-up call. And it really taught me that, yes… in just a few seconds your life can change forever.”

In the wake of Ronin’s experience, doctors have come out en masse with warnings about secondary drowning, a pneumonia-like condition that can happen after nearly drowning and breathing water into the lungs.

“Initially, they may have no symptoms whatsoever,” Dr. Jeff Greenlee of the Tri-Star Summit Hospital in Tennessee told WSMV. “The child may look completely normal. In time, within an hour or a day, they may show difficulty breathing, different coloration, coughing up material. That’s when you bring them in right away.”

[Image courtesy of Lindsay Kujawa]