The YMCA Saved Our Lives
By: Shantel Davis, First Coast YMCA Metro Board of Directors
Could you jump into a pool to save someone’s life? In the deep end? What if it was your child? That’s a scary thought, but it’s a nightmare I lived through when my daughter was five years old. Had both of us not learned how to swim at the YMCA, she might not be alive today.
It was clear from a young age McKinley was a fish. She took swim lessons at the YMCA when she was two years old and loved it. It’s so important to get your kids in the water early so they develop critical skills that’ll last a lifetime.
That was never more evident than the day she got stuck in a neighborhood pool. She was maneuvering her body to try and free herself, but she was trapped. There was no lifeguard on-duty, so I jumped in and pulled my daughter out. She wasn’t breathing, so I administered CPR and was able to revive her before taking her to Baptist Medical Center, where Dr. Neeraj Neval, Neocritical Care ICU Medical Director took over.
I remember sitting in the emergency department, soaking wet, wondering what would happen next. I knew my daughter would survive, but would she be afraid of the water for the rest of her life? I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
About a month later, our neighbors asked us if we wanted to go the Williams Family YMCA to watch their kids take swim lessons. I immediately tensed up. I remember thinking the only way my daughter was going to be around a pool again was if we sold our house and bought one with a pool so we could constantly keep an eye on her. Reluctantly, I agreed to go with our neighbors and McKinley came too.
I’ll never forget that car ride. She initially stared quietly out the window but then spoke up.
“Do I have to get in the water?” she asked.
“No, of course not,” I replied.
A few minutes passed.
“If I just want to put my feet in, can I?” she said.
“Yes, if you want,” I answered.
We eventually got to the pool and after watching her friends go through their class, McKinley stood up and said, “I’m ready.”
When she jumped in, I immediately started crying and thanking God for seeing us through this.
My brave little girl, who I had to bring back to life just a month prior, fearlessly got back in the water and started swimming like nothing had happened.
It’s incredible to witness the heart of a child but in that moment, it was just as moving to see the heart of everyone at the pool. As soon as McKinley started swimming, they all started to applaud and cheer. They didn’t know our story and what she had been through. Rather, they were cheering simply because that’s what the Y family is about – we support one another to live healthy and fulfilling lives. I’ve never felt more supported at the Y than I did that day.
Because we live in Florida, we’re almost always around water. Still, there are a surprising number of adults and children who don’t know how to swim. If that’s you or your child, please reach out to your local Y and sign up for lessons. If it’s important for your child to breathe, it should be just as important for them to learn how to swim. I know what it’s like to see my child not breathing, but because she and I both know how to swim, she’s alive today and enjoying the water, like every kid should.