‘No one is prepared to lose their child’: Topeka mom advocates for lifesaving lessons after toddler drowns

Local News

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – One year after a tragic accident that killed a Topeka toddler, his mom is sharing their story in hopes that it can help save others.

With just one look around the Friess house, it’s obvious: they love family pictures.

Jennifer Friess treasures each of those pictures.

“I have hundreds of pictures and videos of this boy and I’m very thankful for them,” Friess said.

She’s thankful because now pictures are all she has. On May 19th of 2019 an accident took the life of her son Carter.

“I got the phone call that Carter had fell in the pool and he wasn’t breathing,” Friess said.”He was at his grandma’s house. We don’t have a pool, but his grandparents have an in ground pool and it just took a second for him to get away before they found him in the pool.”

Carter’s dad, who is a firefighter, was standing just inside the house, with no idea what was happening.

“That was hard for him. That was the first time he’s had to do CPR on a patient was his own son,” Friess said.

The CPR couldn’t save Carter. He died in Jennifer’s arms at the hospital.

“No one is prepared to lose their child. Nothing can prepare you for this,” Friess said.

Drowning is an accident that happens all too frequently. According to Safe Kids Kansas:

  • In Kansas drowning is the 3rd leading cause of preventable death for kids under 19
  • In the U.S. it’s the leading cause of preventable death for kids between 1 and 4
  • It only takes 20-60 seconds for children to drown
  • Learning to swim can reduce the risk of drowning for kids by 88%

For the Friess family these statistics are all too real.

Carter’s unexpected death is hard for her to put into words for Carter’s 4-year-old brother Charlie.

“They were very close. They were buddies. So it was hard having to tell him that Carter wasn’t coming back”

It changed Charlie’s life in more ways than one.

“I told Charlie that he was starting swim lessons and he says, ‘Mom I already know how to swim’ and I go, ‘no you don’t,'” Friess said.

Now Charlie takes lessons with Capitol City Swim. CEO Zachary Wagers said for them swimming is more than just a fun hobby.

“It’s not necessarily producing the next Michael Phelps out of swim school. We want to make sure that our kids are safe,” Wagers said.

Swimming is a sport that Wagers believes should be taught early on.

“Get families into the water and stress that your children need to learn how to swim before they start doing other sports. It’s not only a life-long skill but a life-saving skill,” Wagers said.

Friess knows just how crucial that skill is.

“The reality is I can’t always be there to protect my kids. I wish a year ago I would’ve put him in swim lessons and avoided all of this,” Friess said.

Cherie Sage with Safe Kids Kansas warns that drowning danger goes beyond the pool.

“It’s not just bathtubs and swimming pools. There are lots of other areas that kids can be around water that you might not even think of, like a 5 gallon bucket or even a toilet in your bathroom,” Sage said. “Anywhere there’s more than an inch of water there is the potential for drowning.”

The experts say adult eyes should be on children at all times around water.

“Even though they’ve had those swimming lessons, even if you think they’re a really good swimmer, they still should be supervised at all times,” Sage said.

That’s a lesson that Capitol City Swim is big on teaching.

“It’s not like the movies, it’s silent. Before we know it we could turn back around and there they are,” Wagers said.

For Friess, Carter’s death has made her an advocate for teaching kids to swim early.

“Pretty much every parent of a small child that I come across I let them know about it, because it’s not something people talk about,” Friess said. “I mean it’s not supposed to happen to you. You know you’re supposed to see it on TV or hear about it happening to someone else, but that somebody is not supposed to be you until it is.”

Heartbreaking stories like Carter’s can happen to anyone.

“It can literally happen to anybody. I’m the overbearing overprotective mom. Stuff like this doesn’t happen to overprotective moms, but it does,” Friess said.

Wagers wants parents to know the best time to start is now.

“When summer comes everybody wants to enroll their kids. Summer is too late. We’ve got to start that early,” Wagers said.

While it’s too late for Carter, with every doggy paddle and backstroke Charlie and Jennifer are determined to keep his memory alive.

“His life was short but he had a good life,” Friess said. “If our story could save one person, it’s worth telling.”

Teaching children to swim is such an important mission to Wagers that he said Capitol City Swim has made their aqua baby and aqua tot classes free. Those are on hold during the coronavirus outbreak, but you can find out more about them here.

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