“I love you really bad mum”
Phillipa Wirangi’s world was turned upside down on 22 December 2015.
“Eli and his older brother had stayed at a relative’s house for the night in Noranda in Perth while my then husband and I cared for our infant son at our nearby home.
“Eli was a couple of weeks away from his second birthday. He was a boisterous boy who loved to climb and he didn’t have any fear; just a cheeky smile!
“It was early in the morning when I received that hysterical, life-changing phone call: ‘Eli’s fallen in the pool.’ … ‘Did you get him out? Is he OK?’ I asked.
“They’d set up one of those wading pools for summer and I don’t think they knew portable pools needed to be fenced. From what I’ve been told Eli was outside, the person watching him was on the phone inside, and he must’ve pulled a plastic chair to the edge of the pool. Next thing he was found floating in the water.
“Thankfully his Nan was able to do CPR and his older cousin who’d just learned CPR at school took over while they waited for an ambulance. Without that CPR he would have died.
“We rushed to the house and I could hear screaming and wailing from the driveway. The paramedics were already there, doing breaths and compressions. I was really hoping it was going to be like one of those movies where they come back to life and start coughing and spluttering and bring up water and then they’re fine … but it didn’t happen!
“The time in the ambulance seemed like an eternity, I remember every detail and I was getting really angry and wanted all the cars to just move off the road. When we finally got to hospital they kept trying to tell me he was going to die soon.
“We decided if we took him off the ventilator and he passed away, that was how it was meant to go.
“Eli was in ICU for nine days and spent three months on the rehab ward – he never got up in all that time. The reason they allowed us to leave was because they didn’t think Eli was going to continue living and thought it would be better if he passed away at home.
“It was so hard seeing Eli like that. He had pretty bad spasms and extensive brain trauma through seizures and he was in constant pain. He had to have morphine all the time. He was stiff and couldn’t really bend; there just wasn’t much movement in his body anymore.
“We couldn’t put him in a car seat, so we had to get an exemption so we could lay him down in the back and not get in trouble if we were pulled over. He needed a hospital bed at home and we had a medicine room with a cabinet full of drugs! Eli’s older brother had to be home-schooled while all of this was going on because we couldn’t manage school drops-offs and pick-ups. It became too hard to stay in Perth. There wasn’t enough support or help.
“Things got better after moving back to New Zealand where I’m from. Eli spent three weeks in the hospital when we first arrived and the doctors and nurses got to know him.
“Eli and I moved to a beach house on our own. A lot of healing happened in that calm environment. His body softened and he could sit up in the pram, which meant we could go places.
“By this stage Eli’s dad and I had separated and our other boys stayed with my ex-husband. All of my energy had to go on Eli. There wasn’t time for anything else. Eli needed 24-hour care.
“In December 2017, Eli got a cold and it turned into a chest infection. We had to check-in to hospital and that night while I was sleeping next to him, I had a dream. I dreamt that he sat up and looked at me and said: ‘I love you really bad Mum’. That was the first time that I really heard him talk properly; in that dream. And then I woke up crying and later on that morning he just stopped breathing and he was gone. I know when he passed away he was in a happy place.
“Eli never made it to his fourth birthday, which would’ve been January 2018. The toll all of this has taken is huge. My two other sons are left without a brother - they miss Eli heaps!
“Being around children in water isn’t the same for me. I’m always planning a path to get to them in case something goes wrong. And that’s not just with my own children.
“I think children see bigger in-ground pools as a bit scarier but the portable pools, they’re kind of like bath tubs and they’re really appealing to kids. I’d say just don’t get one but if you’re going to, you need to fence it.
“I support the Don’t Duck Out, Make It SAFE campaign. I think that everyone needs to be aware of where your kids are and always supervise them around water. Make sure you empty your pools, don’t think that you are wasting water; it’s too much of a risk to leave it filled. And make sure that you know CPR just in case something does happen.”