IF YOUR child is swimming and under five years old, they need to be within hand reach of you.
This is a message Horsham mother Marie-Claude Gagne wants others to heed, after nearly losing her son Felix two summers ago.
On an afternoon in February, Ms Gagne was supervising as Felix - then aged four - along with her daughter Eva and one of Eva's friends as they were swimming in their above-ground backyard pool.
Ms Gagne became distracted while attending to her youngest son, Henry.
"Felix went underwater without me noticing and he started to drown," she said. "(Eva's friend) screamed, 'Felix what are you doing?!' and that just flicked back my attention. I went to the pool and when I arrived, he was facing down unconscious."
Ms Gagne said she and Felix's father Jaye later established he had fallen from a swimming pool noodle. She quickly pulled Felix from the water and though traumatised, remembered to turn him onto his side and pat him on the back.
"He came back really quickly ... it must have been a few seconds (he was unconscious)," she said.
"He vomited, screamed and cried. We then went inside and I was still hysterical. My brain was still thinking he was dead even though he was reacting and breathing - and then it came to my attention that I needed an ambulance because there was an emergency.
"When we do first aid, it's so calm - we play with a mannequin - but when it happens in real time it's so disorientating, and having it happen to your own child is out of anything you could ever imagine you would have to deal with."
Ms Gagne called an ambulance and told paramedics what had happened. Felix spent several hours in hospital after chest X-rays and help to get all the water out of his lungs.
Adding to the distress of the ordeal was that Felix was a competent swimmer for his age. The family had just returned from a month-long holiday in Queensland where he was in the water most days.
Ms Gagne said she experienced traumatic shock for a week after the episode, while Felix needed a parent in the water with him the first few times he tried to swim again.
Ms Gagne has chosen to share her story with the Mail-Times in the hope Wimmera parents will be spared the same trauma.
"The summer season happens around a relaxed time of year - it's a time neighbours come over and have a bit of a drink, and we catch up on these conversations we haven't had over winter," she said.
"Supervising children in a pool is a strict, demanding job - the two don't multi-task really well together.
"When you're supervising a child under five, you need to be within hand reach; and if they're under 12, they need to be in your eyesight at all times.
"They say it takes 20 seconds for a child to drown, but if a child goes under for three seconds and has two good breaths of water, that can be the start of a drowning incident. They just can't find the floor and they breathe in."
Ms Gagne said for the next few months, Felix wouldn't go into the water on his own. Ms Gagne says he has since started attending weekly swimming lessons to boost his confidence and abilities.
"We opened our pool again this summer about three weeks ago and Felix is right in there with all of his floating equipment, so I think he's taken a really big step," she said.
"Seeing Felix becoming more agile in the water also helps me with my fear, but to be honest, it is really hard for me," she said.
Ms Gagne said she undertook meditation, yoga and kinesiology to manage her fear.
- If you have experienced stress following a traumatic event, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Men's Line Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
Pools must now be registered
WIMMERA homeowners need to register their backyard pools and spas with their council.
The new state government regulations came into effect on December 1, and registrations must be completed by July 1, 2020.
Under new rules, all permanent pools and spas and most relocatable ones capable of holding water to a depth greater than 30 centimetres must be registered.
A government spokeswoman said all small inflatable wading pools that do not require any assembly does not have to be registered.
"Councils will inform owners of the date by which they must organise their first inspection and certification of their barrier which will be determined by the age of the pool or spa with older ones to be inspected first," she said.
"If the inspection finds the barrier is non-compliant, the owner has up to 60 days to bring it up to code - serious cases of non-compliance will be referred directly to council for follow up actions."
She said people could find more information at the website www.vba.vic.gov.au/consumers/swimming-pools
Northern Grampians Mayor Murray Emerson said a council team would help residents transition.
"Our dedicated webpage will have all the information you need to ensure your pool fence is up to scratch," he said.
Wimmera families have seven months to register permanent pools and spas.
The government spokeswoman said in Victoria, there were 27 fatal drowning in private swimming pools and spas in the past 19 years.
She said the Victorian Coroner found in at least 20 of these cases, the safety barrier was non-compliant, and this was likely to have played a role in the deaths.
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