Mom shares son’s near-drowning experience as water safety reminder

Kent County

GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — At 4 years old, Marcus Dykstra is no longer scared of the water, but he had good reason to be terrified after what happened two summers ago. He was with his family, including four older siblings, at a backyard pool when he went into the house to get a toy.

“When I went in to see if he had found the toy, I came back out and I said, ‘honey, I haven’t seen, have you seen Marcus?’ At that moment, my 11-year-old son… screamed,” said Dena Dykstra, Marcus’ mom.

Dykstra said then they pulled him from the bottom of the pool, gray and not breathing. They didn’t know CPR but did what they thought they should and pumped on his chest as someone else called 911.

“We revived him just before the paramedics came. We’re so thankful, but it’s one of those moments that truly make you step back and realize how frail life is and how quickly things can change,” Dykstra said.  

She hopes this serves as a reminder that parents should watch their children at all times and be aware of how easy it is to get side-tracked into conversations with friends and family.

Marcus was 2 years old when that happened. Although he was scared to go back into the water, they did with him that they had done with their four older children and enrolled him in an aggressive swim class.

Julie Roche, who runs Julie’s Swim School, taught Marcus and helped him get over his understandable fear. She and her instructors put children as young as three years old under the water the first day with the goal of getting them swimming on their own by the third and last day.  

Roche said giving them confidence is key and loves to see the reaction from parents watching their children in the water.

“It is a big relief… I’ve seen parents just have tears rolling down their face because it’s such an awesome thing to see. But you still have to watch your child, and that’s the biggest thing,” she explained.

Swimming lessons like hers have filled up quickly since many schools were shut down last summer due to the pandemic. Lessons at Julie’s Swim School were booked for the summer by March this year.

If a parent isn’t able to find a course that works, she says there are still things they can do to prepare their children at home.

“Blowing bubbles in the bathtub… lay them down and have a little bit of water over their ears. When you go to a pool, don’t just hold your child, put them in the water, have them sit on the steps, kicking their feet, blowing bubbles, that type of thing, exploring,” Roche said.

She and Dena Dykstra both know that water safety goes beyond swimming.

Dykstra and her husband have five children — Marcus is their youngest. They couldn’t believe that this happened after already experiencing so many summers with their other children but say it can happen to anyone. They both took CPR classes after Marcus’ near-drowning in case they’re around during another emergency.

“When a child has water billowing out of their mouth and is unconscious, you don’t breathe into that child,” said Dina Dykstra. “We learned as we went there but now it’s good to have that confidence that knowledge that have now.”

Aggressive swim programs like those at Julie’s Swim School intended for children around three years old and up, but there are programs for younger children as well, called Infant Swimming Resource classes.

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