Georgia couple shares young son's drowning scare

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For Jill and Bennett Cierny and their boys, the Riverside Pool in Sandy Springs, Georgia, is a summer escape, and a place of painful memories.

"It's hard," Jill Cierny says.  "It's hard to tell this story.  It's hard to know that this happened."

Hard, because this pool is where the Ciernys almost lost their 3-year-old son Dylan on the Friday before 2018 Memorial Day Weekend. Dylan was 2-and-a-half at the time, and he couldn't swim. So, the Ciernys, both doctors, took turns watching him in the water.

"At the end of every hour, they call it adult swim, the lifeguards blow a whistle, the kids all get out of the pool, they run down onto the field and play," Jill Cierny says.

Dylan and his big brother Jackson got out of the water and went off to play, while the Ciernys relaxed poolside.

"I was hanging out and talking to some friends," Jill Cierny remembers. "I would say there was at least 20 to 30 adults around, not to mention the lifeguards."

But no one saw Dylan return to the pool alone, and slip quietly into the water near the deep end.

"I think he was probably in the water for less that 30 seconds before he was unconscious," Bennett Cierny says.

The children were beginning to trickle back to the pool, Jill says.

 "The next thing I knew, I heard a whistle, and it kind of struck me, I didn't know where my baby was, exactly," she says. 

"And, I looked over where the lifeguard was pointing and saw this blue bathing suit floating in the water, and I screamed out."

Jill Cierny says she felt a panic unlike anything she had ever felt before.

"I heard my wife scream, 'That's my baby!' And, I was in the water before I knew what I was doing," Bennett Cierny says.

"He kind of trucked across the whole length of the pool and pulled Dylan out," Jill Cierny remembers.

Dylan was unconscious.

"He was blue," his dad remembers.  "He was blue, he was limp, it was terrifying."

It is a story Children's Healthcare of Atlanta pediatric emergency physician Dr. Sarah Lazarus has heard before.

"We unfortunately see drownings very frequently during the summer," Lazarus says.

And toddlers and preschoolers like Dylan are at highest risk. Drowning, Lazarus says, is the leading cause of accidental death in children between the ages of 1 and 4. It can happen quickly and quietly.

"Drowning can be completely silent," Dr. Lazarus says.  "A child can be stuck under a float, or they can just go under and aspirate or choke."

Bennett Cierny laid his son down and started CPR.

"He just started pounding on his chest and breathing for him," Jill Cierny remembers.

Cierny had trained in CPR as a pediatric anesthesiologist, not knowing his son's life would one day hang in the balance.

"I felt like were were making progress," Cierny says. "And then he coughed and he moved.  And I was, like, 'Okay!  We are going to keep doing this!'"

When paramedics arrived, Dylan was conscious but groggy and confused. He survived, spending just one night in Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. Later, he tried to explain to his mother what had happened.

"He said to me, 'Mommy, I tried to call you, but I couldn't talk. I couldn't talk!'" Jill Cierny says.

Days later, the couple got Dylan enrolled in swim lessons. Then he went through a six-week intensive program known as Infant Self Rescue, or ISR, where very young children are taught how to save themselves if they fall into the water.

This summer, the Ciernys will be back at their community pool. But, their scare has made them much more vigilant. Jill Cierny says they wanted to share Dylan's story to urge parents to keep their children within arms' reach in the water, and to never take their eyes off them.

"I think you really have to stay on top of them," Bennett Cierny says. "If they're in the water, and they're not good swimmers, you need to be there within arms' reach at all time."

The Ciernys says Dylan was wearing a "puddle jumper" floatation device around his arms and waist that day. He took it off when he went off to play in the grass, returning to the pool without it. They believe the floatation device gave Dylan a false of security in the water. They're urging parents not to rely on floatation devices or let their guard down this summer.