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Mom Creates Drowning Prevention Tag in the Wake of Her Son’s Tragic Death

The Hughes family stands happily on a beach, posing for a photo, with Levi.
Image Source: Nicole Hughes/Facebook

As a parent, I am distracted by the realities of parenting three kids more times in a day than I can count; and the fear of what could happen in those moments when my back is turned weighs on my mind constantly — especially in the summer. So when I heard about a mom who devised a brilliant way to keep kids safe when they’re near water, I was all ears. At the same time, my heart ached as soon as I heard the tragic story behind the product’s invention.

Last month, Nicole Hughes and her family were on vacation in Alabama with six of their family friends when tragedy struck. Her 3-year-old son Levi had managed to slip out of sight and make his way toward water while her back was turned, and within minutes, he had drowned.

“We have a group of friends (six families in all) who travel together to the same beach in Alabama each year,” Hughes shares with Babble. “On June 10, Levi played at the beach and pool all day. He wore his life jacket the entire time. That night, we were cleaning up from dinner. I split a brownie with him — he had one bite and I had one bite. I turned to close a bag of Cheetos and popped the brownie half in my mouth.”

In the mere seconds that Hughes was turned around, her son had somehow managed to make his way past heavy doors, down a spiral staircase, and into the backyard. She says she walked out onto the balcony just moments later and peered over the railing when she saw him in the pool below.

“I found him, face down in the deep end,” she recalls. “He was wearing his bright yellow crab hunting shirt, and he was so excited to go crab hunting that night.”

The group of friends the Hughes family was vacationing with just happened to include six doctors, who all tried their best to revive little Levi. They even intubated him before the ambulance arrived.

“They got a slight pulse but could not bring him back,” Hughes says. “He was airlifted and passed away at the hospital.”

Nicole Hughes sits on a beach, smiling with her son Levi in her lap.
Image Source: Nicole Hughes/Facebook

The story is almost too painful to read, let alone live through. But that pain is ultimately what inspired Hughes to devise a simple, yet brilliant way of preventing this kind of tragedy from happening to other families, too.

“I know as a parent, it is so easy to get distracted, especially when you have multiple kids,” Hughes tells Babble. “Often, my husband or I would ask the other to watch the kids, but I was casual and easy to get distracted.”

And so, the Water Guardian tag was born.

A hand holds a Water Guardian Tag, which a message that reads "I am the water guardian."
Image Source: Nicole Hughes/Facebook

“I kept thinking of [the phrase] ‘Tag, you’re it!'” says Hughes.”Like ‘tag, you’re the water guardian.’”

The credit card-sized plastic sign hangs on a lanyard around a designated adult’s neck whenever there’s water nearby. It’s intended to be a visual cue to everyone in the vicinity that the person wearing it is on guard to make sure the kids are safe at all times.

“It is a reminder to watch kids when they are not swimming but have access to water,” Hughes explains. “Almost 70% of kids drown when it’s not a swim time … someone needs to wear the tag then, as well.”

Levi Hughes smiles while playing on a playground, wearing Spiderman boots.
Image Source: Nicole Hughes/Facebook

The No. 1 cause of death in children ages 1 through 4 is drowning, and the No. 2 cause of death in children ages 1 to 14. Both of these statistics shocked me when I first read them — especially because, as Hughes reminds us, drowning is 100% preventable.

“There is a misconception that drowning happens just when swimming, but it happens when you slip away from a huge group after dinner, as well,” says Hughes. “Also, it can happen in seconds. There is [sometimes] no struggle: it is silent and it is quick. I had no idea a child could drown in one minute.”

We talk about fire safety and home safety and encourage plans of escape for when something goes wrong. But when we look at the startling statistics on drowning and kids, it seems obvious that we should all be talking about water safety far more than we do. Perhaps now, thanks to Nicole Hughes, we will.

To learn more about Water Guardian Tags, or to order your own, visit LevisLegacy.com.

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