Little Hannah drowned in her backyard pool in October 2007. Her mum Katherine tells of the devastation that followed and why she has started Hannah's Foundation for all families of drowning victims. Please note that this story may be distressing.
The Pool, the Chair and little Hannah
There was no appropriate title for my own story. And so I have named my story in very simple terms - because all it took for me to lose my daughter was something as simple as a plastic chair. Hannah, aged almost three, had been out of my sight for less than three minutes. She gained access to our pool with the chair. When I found her, I immediately applied my training in CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation). I still don't understand how I could have failed, and I don't understand why others have their children back after a near-drowning when Hannah was in the water for less time. I just ache and long for these answers I will never get.
Little Princess Purple
On the morning of the 4th October 2007, my baby son Harry woke with a raging temperature. I decided to take the day 'off work' from our business. Hannah quietly watched a movie during the morning. Later whilst I was trying to cool Harry down, Hannah slipped into the bathroom and painted herself in eyeshadow that belonged to her older sister Kelsi. She looked like little Princess Purple all covered in glitter and wearing her purple nappy. I ran for the camera, but sadly the camera wasn't charged. I missed taking a photo of her artwork and cheeky smile. Hannah had spoken to her daddy twice on the phone that day, with the second time being just before she went out to play.
At this time (around 2pm) I was changing Harry's nappy. After putting his nappy in the laundry, I went out to lift Harry into his high chair. That's when my heart sank. I saw the pool gate open, with our plastic white chair in front of it. Hannah was nowhere to be seen or heard. I started screaming her name whilst running out to find her. From the deck that adjoins our house, I saw her in the pool.
Never in a million years did I ever think she would use a chair to unlock the gate. For 352 days we had lived in our house, and she had never once opened it. She knew it was a rule to wait. I had reminded her of our rule that morning. But she didn't listen to me that day… WHY HANNAH? It's a question I ask her everyday without answer.
Hannah, aged almost three, had been out of my sight for less than three minutes.
Hannah was not breathing
Desperately pulling Hannah from our pool, I was screaming. Hannah was not breathing. Her colour was purple, blue and grey. Those screams still ring in my head. I was screaming the name of the person next door and the words 'HELP ME', but to no avail. My heart was pounding. How I phoned for the ambulance in such a state I will never know; nor will I forget the eternity I experienced before that call was physically responded to.
I feel the enormity of failure because CPR didn't work and I was trained to do this effectively, and was told that it could save lives. My body against her cold lifeless body will forever be an image in my eyes as I close them.
Later at the hospital; the memory, the smell and seeing her lying on the table with the curtains wide open were horrible. I am living a nightmare everyday with these visions.
The sunshine has gone from our home
The smell of vomit, the sounds of regurgitating water in Hannah's lungs, the amount of water in every breath I breathed into Hannah during CPR, the water going into my mouth and me tasting her vomit is a little too much on my mind some days. The sounds of something gurgling such as the toilet, a water pipe, bath water running or even the shower, scares me. Our son hasn't bathed since. He has learned to have showers. (After losing Hannah, it took me four days to shower because I feared that washing her off me was washing her away from my body.) Sunshine; the daily dawn aches my heart and I now awaken to a darker house with all the curtains drawn. Hannah was the sunshine of my day and now I have none.
I overdosed with hundreds of pills
I would never willingly go to the hospital where Hannah died. Yet I was transported there in November 2007 after an attempted overdose. On the 20th November 2007, police informed us that an anonymous crimestoppers call had reported that Hannah's death was 'on purpose'. The police had been investigating me for the past six weeks. To say my husband and I were shocked is an understatement. This is what set me off on my road to destruction. I entered a very dark place, and ended up convincing myself the allegations must be true. In an attempt to kill myself, I overdosed with about 350 pills.
I don't recall the ambulance, nor the hospital, only waking up in a different hospital with a tube down my throat. I was suicidal consistently for about three weeks and in hospital for close to seven.
These are the worst days of my life. No one 'gets' how I feel. There are some days when this is too painful a journey to be on and I wake up saying "Oh no, another day in this horrible life".
I have abandoned all the 'Hannah places'
Driving past her kindy I break down. Shopping was something Hannah loved so much and I just can't physically do it. I have abandoned all those 'Hannah places' she and I would visit and I have since found new ones, even if that means travelling for two hours just for the space of creating a new place.
The backyard of our house is now minus the pool and the deck that it was attached to. I have only twice gone out the back of our property since, and that was within the last week. The sight of her vegie patch with her purple ribbon on it is too painful; I long to see her smiling at the size of the squash and pumpkins.
Flashbacks come everyday no matter what I am doing. I avoid her favourite music, her DVDs. Her room, clothes and shoes are still where they were the day she died. I cannot bear to touch them. It is even harder because her room was shared with her younger brother Harry. So no matter what happens on any given day I see Hannah's belongings because I have to take Harry into his room.
Whenever the sky thunders and rains
My anger is bitter. I know I will never be the same person again. I have the greatest support in my husband and my older children, who sadly were not home on that horrible day. They reassure me that what Hannah did that day is known only to her and the angels. They tell me I am not to blame.
Hannah loved to run, skip, jump and be active. Speaking with Health Care professionals it is understood that if Hannah were revived that day she would not have the quality of life she had before. This does not make it any easier to live or deal with, because I do wish her back for my own selfish reasons. But Hannah is an angel in heaven. When the heavens thunder, it is her jumping on the couch; when it rains she is helping pour it out with her buckets, and when it hails she is no doubt rocking our roof and laughing at us all.
We found that our pool decking was not council-approved
We are all angry because our pool was not approved by our council nor was it an approved structure by the previous owners. This is something that is of greater sadness because we did everything we could as a buyer to ensure that our house was safe. The coroner is yet to make their findings, but as a warning to anyone buying or selling a home, the importance of a currently pool compliance certificate is paramount. Our pool was never approved on this property and a paper search would have proved pointless with council not having records. Our daughter died because others failed her. I am angry and I do want justice for Hannah. Too many children in Australia are drowning and near-drowning because of inappropriate pools, pool fencing and related structures. It's nothing to cheapskate on; what price do you put on a life? The coroner has indicated the fence Hannah climbed was a compliant fence and the lock did work. Our fight is that the structure that attached the house to the pool was the illegal structure and we want to know why weren't we told? Why didn't anyone check it? Why did so many people lie to us? And most of all, why did our daughter have to die?
Water safety for children
It's important to know CPR, to make sure pools are compliant and to ensure that children are able to survive in water, not just swim. It's proven that swimming lessons don't save lives. Kids that can swim DO and ARE drowning. It's all about supervision.
Children are also drowning in dams, water tanks, and in small amounts of water in plastic paddling pools, buckets, and even toilets. A small child can drown in just a few centimetres of water.
Parents are not superhuman, and our eyes cannot be everywhere. The best we can do is to make our living spaces, both indoors and outdoors, as safe as possible, and to keep watch over our children. Even then, parents cannot foresee or anticipate everything, and loving, caring parents should not feel they have failed their children when a tragedy sadly happens.
My husband Andrew and I started Hannah's Foundation in Australia to advocate pool safety, to educate others, but most of all a place to turn to if this one day happens to you. It's a sad statistic that over 350 people a year die from drowning. More children die from drowning than from motor vehicle accidents. There has never been a Family Support Service in Australia for drowning. Now we do.
You can support and read more about Hannah's Foundation here: www.hannahsfoundation.org
You are welcome to leave a message for Katherine in the Feature Member forum.