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It's called 'delayed drowning.' Here are 4 key warning signs plus the single best way to prevent it.
Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

This article originally appeared on 07.02.15


In 2008, a young boy named Johnny Jackson went swimming and accidentally swallowed some water.

He had a short coughing fit, toweled off, and then went home. No big deal.

Or so his parents thought.


A few hours later, after going down for a nap, Johnny passed away.

In 2014, a toddler named Ronin came frighteningly close to the same fate. He slipped briefly into a pool before being pulled to safety by his mother. Ronin was shaken up but seemed fine.

Later that night, he lay stretched out in an ambulance as it screamed toward the hospital, where he arrived just in time.

Stories like these have resulted in an outburst of news coverage around what's being referred to as "dry drowning." But that's a bit of a misnomer.

Since we're entering the season of pool parties and beach trips, here are a few things you really need to know about what actually happened to Ronin and Johnny.

Ronin is doing great, by the way. Here he is learning how to swim. Photo from Delighted Momma, used with permission.

First, there is a difference between dry drowning and delayed drowning.

With dry drowning, water never enters the victim's lungs. Rather, it causes the vocal chords to spasm and shuts off airways without actually filling the lungs with water. Otherwise, it looks a lot like normal drowning because it occurs in real time and causes asphyxiation.

Delayed drowning, sometimes called secondary drowning, is a bit different. In cases like Ronin and Johnny's, water gets into the lungs in small amounts — not enough to disable breathing right away. Instead, it sits there and inhibits the lungs' ability to oxygenate blood. From there, the victim starts to have more and more trouble breathing over the course of several hours.

Second, drowning doesn't look the way it does in the movies.

Whether you're dealing with normal, dry, or delayed drowning, don't expect a dramatic scene full of thrashing, coughing, and yelling.

According to Dr. Anna Mendenhall of the Children's Physicians Medical Group, 9 out of 10 children who drown do so even though they were being supervised by a parent because it's so easy to miss the signs.

Here's what you need to look for, even hours after you've left the pool or beach:

  • Difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pain, or throwing up. Look for rapid and shallow breaths, nostril flaring, or a pronounced gap in the ribs when breathing. These are all signs a child is working too hard to get oxygen.
  • Extreme tiredness. Big-time fatigue can be a sign that the brain isn't getting enough oxygen.
  • Any odd change in behavior. Kids in the beginning stages of delayed drowning may be really cranky, argumentative, or combative.
  • Odd physical changes. Look out for blue lips or pale skin.

Most likely these symptoms will go away over time. But if they don't or they get worse, you might want to call your pediatrician on the way to the emergency room.

And the best way to watch for drowning in the moment? Get in the pool with your kids and stay within an arm's reach. It's the only way to make sure you don't miss anything.

Watching from the patio is a no-no. Get in the pool! Photo from Thinkstock.

Third, don't panic. Delayed and dry drownings combined make up only 1% to 2% of all drowning incidents.

There's no getting around it. This is really scary stuff, especially to a parent.

I have a 2-month-old daughter, and my first reaction to all of this is to literally never let her near a swimming pool. Ever.

But as scary as they are, these unusual cases are just that — unusual.

It's a really good idea teach your kids about basic water safety and get them comfortable in the pool with swim lessons at an early age (experts say 4 or 5 is a good age to start). But I'll say it again:

The single best thing you can do to protect a child from drowning — wet, dry, or otherwise — is to get in the pool with them.

As long as you're prepared, pools can be great for fun things like throwing your children! Photo from Thinkstock.

At least until they're old enough to be embarrassed by your presence.

True

The last thing children should have to worry about is where their next meal will come from. But the unfortunate reality is food insecurity is all too common in this country.

In an effort to help combat this pressing issue, KFC is teaming up with Blessings in a Backpack to provide nearly 70,000 meals to families in need and spread holiday cheer along the way.

The KFC Sharemobile, a holiday-edition charitable food truck, will be making stops at schools in Chicago, Orlando, and Houston in December to share KFC family meals and special gifts for a few select families to address specific needs identified by their respective schools.

These cities were chosen based on the high level of food insecurity present in their communities and hardships they’ve faced, such as a devastating hurricane season in Florida and an unprecedented winter storm in Houston. In 2021, five million children across the US lived in food-insecure households, according to the USDA.

“Sharing a meal with family or friends is a special part of the holidays,” said Nick Chavez, CMO of KFC U.S. “Alongside our franchisees, we wanted to make that possible for even more families this holiday season.”

KFC will also be making a donation to Blessings in a Backpack, a nonprofit that works to provide weekend meals to school-aged children across America who might otherwise go hungry.

“The generous donations from KFC could not have come at a better time, as these communities have been particularly hard-hit this year with rising food costs, inflation and various natural disasters,” Erin Kerr, the CEO of Blessings in a Backpack, told Upworthy. “Because of KFC’s support, we’re able to spread holiday cheer by donating meals for hunger-free weekends and meet each community’s needs,” Kerr said.

This isn’t the first time KFC has worked with Blessings in a Backpack. The fried chicken chain has partnered with the nonprofit for the last six years, donating nearly $1 million dollars. KFC employees also volunteer weekly to package and provide meals to students in Louisville, Kentucky who need food over the weekend.

KFC franchisees are also bringing the Sharemobile concept to life in markets across the country through local food donations and other holiday giveback moments. Ampex Brands, a KFC franchisee based in Dallas, recently held its annual Day of Giving event and donated 11,000 meals to school children in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

If you’d like to get involved, you can make a donation to help feed students in need at kfc.com/kfcsharemobile. Every bit helps, but a donation of $150 helps feed a student on the weekends for an entire 38-week school year, and a donation as low as $4 will feed a child for a whole weekend.

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