'Be alert': Heartbroken mum's plea to keep kids safe around water

Photo: Hollie Dunn and Aria.
Photo: Hollie Dunn and Aria.  Photo: Supplied

Aria Dunn's nickname was 'Smiley' because she smiled all the time.

"Aria brought so much love into the lives of a lot of people," her mum Hollie tells Essential Baby.

"She was a big-hearted, adventurous little girl and she had the biggest, most beautiful eyelashes.

Photo: At just 20-months-old, Ariadrowned in the family's backyard pool.
Photo: At just 20-months-old, Ariadrowned in the family's backyard pool. Photo: Supplied

"If she wanted something, she was going to get it and unfortunately that's how the accident happened."

At 20-months-old, the spirited, happy little girl drowned in the family's backyard pool.

Prior to her death, she'd had a fun-filled day playing chasey, watching a movie and dancing with her dad Craig, mum and big brother Jett.

When bedtime came, she happily cuddled her parents and went to her room with her favourite pink dummy and pink bunny.

A short time later her dad went to check on her and discovered she wasn't in her room and found her toy near the back door. Worried, he unlocked the screen door to find "her tiny body floating face-down in the pool". She'd climbed through a small dog door to get there.

She died later in hospital, with her family by her side.

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They now run a support group called Smiles 4 Aria to help other parents suffering the loss of a child through traumatic experiences. And they work to promote water safety awareness and advocate for government funded First Aid and CPR classes.

"We know what it's like to have our heart ripped out," Hollie said.

"If it means we can save another child's life then we will keep doing it."

Photo: The Dunn family. Supplied
Photo: The Dunn family. Supplied 

Her biggest message to parents is to stay alert.

"Drowning is silent. People need to be so vigilant, not just around pools but baths, creeks, lakes, the ocean – all water," she said.

"There's got to be at least parent in the group who is vigilant when you're near water.

"Parents have to be more aware and get off their mobile phones – or you might lose someone you love."

For the Dunn family, their lives changed in an instant and now they're left facing a life without Aria. She didn't get to meet her little brother Noah, which is devastating considering how much she adored her big brother.

"She had so much love for her big brother Jett and her first word was his name," Hollie said.

"Every night we go outside and say goodnight to our Angel in the stars."

Today marks 3 years since we lost our beautiful girl. Please help us to ensure her memory lives on. Take a photo, add a...

Posted by Smiles 4 Aria on  Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Olympic swim coach and Kids Alive ambassador Laurie Lawrence said he feels "gutted" when he hears stories like the Dunn family's.

"I feel gutted and helpless every time I read or hear stories of a young child who has lost their life in tragic circumstances," he tells Essential Baby.

"Accidents can and do happen and no parent can watch their child 24/7.

"I am more acutely aware of these dangers now that I have twin grandchildren who, at 15 months are so active, quick, and mischievous. The twins are in that dangerous age group where most drownings occur, but they are now having lessons and luckily have taken to the water like magnets."

Nineteen children under the age of five drowned in Australia in 2019 - 12 in backyard pools.  New research from Poolwerx also revealed that almost one-in-four parents either know someone who has had, or have directly encountered, a near-drowning experience. 

To help prevent tragic deaths, Poolwerx and Kids Alive have partnered with local swim schools across the country to offer, children under five, free swimming lessons for Learn 2 Swim Week, held from 25 September to 4 October. And vouchers are available, if your local swim school is impacted by COVID restrictions.

The lessons will teach basic water skills to help make swimming safe and fun for parents and toddlers. 

Photo: Lawrie Lawrence

Photo: Supplied

Mr Lawrence said no parent can afford to take their eyes off a child in the water for even a second.

"Children only need to be submerged for a short amount of time to drown or suffer immersion which can cause life-altering brain damage," he said.

"Drowning happens quickly and silently and can happen to anyone, so it is vital that young children learn basic swimming skills and respect for deep water."

That's why swimming lessons are so important.

"I have been involved in infant aquatics for over forty-five years and I know that swimming saves lives," he said. "Learning to swim for young children takes time but it has many wonderful benefits."

"These kids surface after each lesson as smarter, better coordinated, healthier, and more importantly, safer children."

And while swimming lessons saves lives, it's also important to be vigilant and remember:

  • Always be sure that the pool is fenced, and the gate is securely closed.
  • Be sure to leave your phone inside and always supervise children when
  • swimming.
  • Learn basic resuscitation and CPR skills that could one day save a life.

You can follow Smiles 4 Aria on Facebook. To find about more about Learn 2 Swim Week activities go to learn2swimweek.com.