Little Harper Svilicic’s day at the beach was just like any other, apart from the minor dunking she quickly shook off.
It wasn’t until she was home, tucked in bed that things started to go horribly wrong and Harper began to experience what is known as “delayed drowning”.
She had unwittingly inhaled a small amount of water when she was dunked in the waves which began slowly, but surely, shutting down her tiny lungs.
“Harper was in bed with me, because it was hot and I wanted her in the air conditioning,” recalls mum Cath, 40.
Despite wearing earplugs, Cath awoke to a terrifying noise coming from her daughter.
“I can only describe it as a gurgling, rattling sound.
“When she breathed in, it sounded like a boiling kettle. When she exhaled, it was a rattling wheeze.
“Weirdly, I instantly knew she was drowning – there was water on her lungs and there was no other logical conclusion.”
Looking pale and scared, Harper was rushed to the emergency department at regional Rockingham Hospital where doctors feared one of her lungs had collapsed.
Without the proper equipment and expertise there to treat her, Cath and Harper made the nightmarish hour-long ambulance dash to Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth.
“I tried to keep my strong ‘mum face’ on, but when her eyes started rolling to the back of her head I was terrified,” says Cath.
“My little girl was apparently a ‘code 1’, so we drove through red lights, on the wrong side of the road and down emergency lanes.”
A team of eight doctors were on standby in Perth, but miraculously, the steroids, ventolin and 20 minutes of being aspirated in the ambulance saved Harper’s life.
“We spent the next day in hospital and I’m just so thankful that she survived it.
“One doctor told me that about 70 percent of kids don’t pull through delayed drownings, also known as ‘secondary’ or ‘near drownings’.
“Parents just put their kids to bed and they die in their sleep, which is unfathomable.”
Cath has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support since she shared her scare online to help raise awareness about this rare phenomenon.
“I’ve been teary-eyed at some of the Facebook comments I’ve had from mums who’ve lost their children.
“This is the ugly step-sister of drowning, and could happen to anyone because it was such a non-event.
“We are the poster story for the best outcome and I’m just so thankful.”
What is delayed drowning?
Children are most susceptible to this bizarre condition, which experts believe accounts for one to two per cent of drownings. It occurs when a child’s airways open up, letting water into the lungs, which slowly swell up one to 24 hours after towelling off.
Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, lethargy, a fever and mood changes. It’s vital you get your child checked by a doctor if this is the case.