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'I used to be able to hold my son in my arms': Valley mother pushing to stop drowning deaths

A mother shares the heartbreaking story of her young son's death with the hopes it'll help save lives.

PHOENIX — So far this year, there have been 18 water-related deaths in the Valley. Six of those victims were between the ages of 0-5 years old. However, no matter the age, the deaths are tragic and parents like Stacey McRae are speaking out.

"Troy is my oldest, he'll be 12," she said. "Cole and Odin are twins. Cole is 4 and Odin is forever 2.5."

It was about two years ago when the family's life changed. 

"My husband and I did what any couple would do, we asked my mom to come watch our kids so we could enjoy a night out for dinner," she said.

McRae describes it as a normal day. They went to the park in the morning and spent time in the pool later that afternoon. Her mom came over later that evening as McRae was making dinner.

"I cooked the boys' dinner," she said. "Ravioli was the dinner of choice that night. I sat them down for dinner, I said a quick goodbye, and we left for the evening."

McRae's mom accidentally fell asleep, and the twin boys found their way to the backyard pool. Both boys fell in. 

"Both of my boys had been in swim lessons for two years, they knew how to self-rescue," McRae said. "We were fortunate Cole was able to get himself out, but Odin wasn't as lucky."

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McRae is now choosing to speak about what happened with the hopes no other family has to go through the heartache they've felt on a daily basis since.

"If I knew then what I know now my son would still be alive," she said. "It's really difficult for me to admit, but the pool fence was not back here at the time. We didn't have alarms or special locks on our doors, and we foolishly thought lessons and supervision would be enough. We quickly learned the hard way that it's not. As hard as it is to stand here and admit our failures, we really hope that in doing so, we reach other families who, like us, didn't know any better, and hopefully they don't have to go through the agony, pain, and suffering that my kids, husband and I have."

In most cases, drownings are preventable. McRae says the more layers of protection parents have in place the better.

"Pool fences, alarms, and locks on all doors leading to the water including dog doors," she said. "Knowing CPR is important. My mom didn't, unfortunately, know CPR, so she had to take my son to our neighbor's house and luckily someone was there who knew CPR. That was valuable time that we lost in helping save my son's life."

"There are layers of protection and each and every one of them is important," said Lori Stauffer.

Stuffer is with the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona. She sees first hands the toll these deaths play on families and loved ones who've drowned. 

"This year has been tough," she said. "We were doing okay but we had eight incidents in one weekend," she said. "That ranged from a two-year-old to an adult, so we really have to take steps to save lives."

Stauffer says that again means constant supervision, door locks and alarms, a sturdy fence around the pool and/or pool cover. However, it's not just pools people need to be focused on, it's all bodies of water.

RELATED: Floatation rings installed at Tempe Town Lake after man's drowning

"So anything that holds about an inch of water is a water hazard," she said. "We have had kids drown in toilets. You also may have your yard perfect, but if your child climbs into a neighbor's yard that also is something that can be dangerous."

She also stresses the importance of CPR which she says, can mean the difference between life and death.

"If all other layers of protection fail, you need to know how to do CPR," she said. "And that's that mouth-to-mouth CPR, that's 30 compressions 2 breaths over and over again. We have to protect the brain. Feed that brain, keep it alive so we can have a really good outcome, otherwise we see in many situations when it's not been administered until the firefighters get there the outcome is not very good."

The cause is also important to Stauffer who also has her own story of when her daughter was swimming.

"She was swimming and flipped upside down and she couldn't right herself," Stauffer said. "Luckily, her dad noticed and righted her up. And she turns to him and says, 'Daddy, I was screaming for you but you couldn't hear me.' Every time I hear that the hair goes up on my arms and it reminds me I don't want that to happen to anyone else."

In fact, drowning is known as a silent killer because many times when a person is in distress in the water, they can't be heard. McRae now sharing her truth so no other life is lost.

"We feel Odin every single day," she said. "We feel him in the wind, rain and bees. This has literally been a nightmare and we wake up every morning hoping it was a nightmare. But sadly we wake up to this reality that our son is gone, he's not coming back, and as much as we would like to go back and change things and the decisions we made, we can't. So our mission now, as hard as it is, is to make happy memories around water in daily life. To find joy in the small moments because that's what Odin wants, he wants everyone to be happy."

The family is hoping to spread awareness about drowning prevention, but they also are honoring Odin with a couple of different events. The first is a book drive that helps Arizona Helping Hands, a local nonprofit. If you'd like to donate a book in Odin's memory, you can drop off a book for a young child and/or teen by dropping it off at one of their collection boxes. 

You can find one by calling 480-889-0604 you can also visit their website.

McRae and her family will also be hosting their second annual Bee Happy 4 Odin Family Fun Run on Dec. 10, 2023. Details are still being solidified.

VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL: 'Solía ser capaz de sostener a mi hijo en mis brazos': Madre del valle busca detener las muertes por ahogamiento


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