'Drowning incidents happen silently and instantly'
Lynn Quinlan, whose little boy Leon tragically drowned 10 years ago, warns parents of water's dangers...
It's coming up to 10 years since Lynn Quinlan faced every parent's worst nightmare.
On 27 June 2004, Lynn, who had recently moved to Spain with her family, was putting her youngest son to bed at 7.30 while her two-and-a-half year old toddler Leon waited downstairs for his turn. It was a system that had worked to date.
However, on the night in question Leon became restless and started wandering, sneaking out of the house under a shutter. Lynn knew he liked paddling pools so she made her way down to the small pool in the complex where the family lived at the time.
There were still children about but Leon was nowhere to be seen. As she made her way past one of the larger pools in the complex, she caught sight of Leon’s pyjamas in the water. He was still alive but unresponsive. Four days later, on 1 July, Leon passed away and the Quinlans donated some of his organs.
In the years after his death, Lynn campaigned for greater water safety in Spain. She set up Water Angels, garnered publicity in Ireland, and raised funds for both Irish Water Safety in Ireland and to help lobby for gates to be placed around pools in Spain.
“I was horrified to realise that drowning is such a big problem in Spain, but unfortunately tourism is a huge draw and they are reluctant to draw attention to the fact that so many children drown each year.”
The European laws have changed since Leon’s death, and Lynn says she is pleased to see gated entrances springing up around pools.
As Leon’s 10th anniversary approaches, Lynn says she wants to use the opportunity to appeal to parents to be water safety conscious.
“Leon’s not here anymore but if he can save one life this summer, I’ll feel very privileged,” she says.
Lynn encourages parents to learn how to swim. “You can buy all the blow-up armbands and safety rings but if you can’t swim and something goes wrong in a swimming pool, what are you going to do?
“Also, make sure you teach your children how to swim from a young age. It can take a matter of days to teach a child to swim.”
Despite being able to keep himself above water, Leon was wearing a disposable nappy for bedtime on the night he went missing. Lynn points out that disposable nappies are made to retain water, which can then weigh infants and toddlers down if they fall into a pool.
“I always say, would you blindfold your child and dare them to walk across the M50? Then why allow them run around a pool in a disposable nappy?”
When you go on holidays how often do you find out the emergency number of the country you’re travelling to? Lynn encourages parents to do their research before they leave Ireland.
The Quinlans stayed in Spain after Leon’s death, and own two restaurants in Marbella: Beckitt’s and The Playwright. They have four other children: Jordan, 17; Chloe, 14; Kai, 11; and Abby, nine.
Lynn says she had to get over her initial fears around the children after Leon’s death.
“I had to discipline myself for their sakes. I didn’t want to fast forward years and for them to tell me their lives were miserable. But we erected a fence around our pool at home and it only came down last year.”
She says losing a child is something you don’t get over, but must get through. “We are very grateful for the two and a half years we had Leon. He was here for a short time but it was a very special time.”
Water safety tips from Water Babies
Actively supervise young children around water
* Keep an eye on your children at all times.
* Always stay within arm’s reach of children under five.
* If leaving, even momentarily, take your child or designate a known adult to supervise.
* Remember, lifeguards on our beaches are not babysitters.
Be safety conscious at the pool
* Make sure there is a qualified lifeguard in attendance.
* Check where the rescue equipment and lifeguards are.
* Do not swim in a swimming pool that has cloudy water or where you can’t see the bottom.
* Save local emergency numbers on your phone.
Keep these things in mind
* Flotation devices are not life preservers. Toys and inflatables are often unstable and therefore a hazard.
* Do not swim at beaches with large waves, a powerful undercurrent or no lifeguards. Find out where the lifeguards are and learn water symbols and flags indicating current beach conditions.
* Stay sober. Drinking can impair your supervision and swimming skills.
* When boating or fishing, make sure everybody wears a lifejacket that is age and size specific and has a correctly fitting crotch strap.
Teach your children these rules
* Always swim with others, never alone.
* Do not push or jump onto others or participate in any dangerous behaviour.
* Do not dive into water.
* Know what to do in an emergency and where to get help. Call 999 or 112.
Learn basic life support
* Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may provide the seconds needed to prevent death or brain damage.
This article first appeared in Mothers & Babies magazine. To read the supplement online, click here.