'Brain damage or die': Mum recalls son's horrific near-drowning

A mum has opened up about the horrific moment her son almost drowned during a family barbecue, and the ongoing toll it has taken on their lives.

One day during the 2007 Christmas season, Mel Anderson was sitting with her then-husband and her dad at their home in regional Victoria when she noticed her 10-month-old son Matthew had disappeared from where he was playing at her feet.

The mum, now 43, immediately jumped out of her chair and searched her yard.

“One second Matt was playing on the ground at my feet and the next, I looked down and he wasn't there,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

Mel Anderson holding a photo of Matthew when he was about 10 months old.
Mel Anderson's son Matthew wandered off during a family barbecue when he was 10 months old and was found face down in a pool. Source: Kidsafe

“We went frantically looking for him, and saw the pool gate was compromised, and he had fallen silently into the water.

“We found him faced downwards, floating in the pool. It was a terrible experience. I felt sick — I thought he was gone.”

Luckily, Ms Anderson’s dad had completed a CPR course just two weeks earlier and immediately started first aid after Matthew’s dad pulled him from the water.

The grandfather was able to get the little boy’s heart beating again but he remained unconscious when paramedics arrived and took over performing CPR.

Ms Anderson said it felt like hours waiting for help to arrive.

Matthew was then rushed to hospital in an air ambulance, but doctors were not very hopeful about his recovery.

A photo of Matthew near a pool when he was about 10-months-old.
Doctos said Matthew would suffer from brain damage if he ever woke up. Source: Mel Anderson/Kidsafe

“The doctor said that he's either going to have brain damage or die, so the chances of him surviving would pretty much none,” she said.

“When you hear those words, you just can't think there's any sort of future, you know.

“So you're trying to get as much strength as you can, but that's very challenging.”

After a few days in hospital, doctors said they were going to try and bring Matthew out of his induced coma and warned Ms Anderson that if he didn’t wake up, she would have to consider taking him off life support.

“Luckily, he did come out,” she said, describing the “unbelievable” moment as one of the best of her life.

Miraculously, Matthew showed no sign of brain injuries.

Mum still struggles with PTSD

Ms Anderson said that she is very grateful her son, now 14, doesn’t suffer any ongoing symptoms, but she does continue to live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"Even now, many years later, I still reflect on that day and relive the emotions and how terrified I felt,” the mum said.

“But I remind myself that he is alive. I'm one of the lucky ones, that Matt is still here. That helps me to move forward.

“For a long time though I struggled with reliving that moment and the what if's."

A recent photo of Ms Anderson and Matthew.
Ms Anderson said that she is very grateful her son, now 14, doesn’t suffer any ongoing symptoms. Source: Mel Anderson/Kidsafe

Child drowning deaths soar by 108 per cent

Australia has seen a massive spike in the number of drowning deaths this year.

Across all age groups, drowning deaths have increased by 20 per cent when compared to 2020, according to the Royal Life Saving Australia.

Tragically, deaths among children aged up to four have increased by 108 per cent in 2021.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for Aussie kids under five, General Manager of Kidsafe Victoria, Jason Chambers, told Yahoo News Australia.

Mr Chambers said the most incidents with young kids occur in backyard swimming pools and lakes and dams.

He said toddlers are more at risk of drowning deaths for a number of reasons, including their lack of swimming skills.

“A lot of the drowning deaths occur from falls into the water. Toddlers are quite top heavy so they can fall easily while reaching for a toy or a ball,” he said.

Kidsafe’s ‘Safe Barriers Save Lives’ campaign safety check list.
Kidsafe’s ‘Safe Barriers Save Lives’ campaign is urging Aussies to be vigilant about checking the safety of their pool barriers. Source: Kidsafe

“It can only take 20 seconds for a toddler to drown.

“They can get into trouble quickly and it often happens silently.”

With families set to gather for Christmas festivities, Mr Chambers is urging people to make sure they’re kids are always in arm’s reach around any body of water — including small plastic paddle pools and buckets of water — and to sign their toddlers up for swimming lessons now that Covid lockdowns have eased.

A study conducted by UNSW Sydney, James Cook University and Royal Life Saving Australia shows that household chores like checking on dinner and taking out the rubbish were the most common distractions that led to kids being unsupervised around water.

Kidsafe’s ‘Safe Barriers Save Lives’ campaign is urging Aussies to be vigilant about checking the safety of their pool barriers.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.