Boy Nearly Drowns at Disney Resort in Hawaii

I experienced something today and felt compelled to share it after learning that there have been many incidents like these at Disney resorts. Mine had a happy ending. Most do not.

My husband, son, and I arrived to the pool at the Disney Aulani resort today. My husband and son headed into the water and I walked toward a cooler to fill my water bottle.  

I noticed a lifeguard walking out of the pool carrying the limp body of a young Asian or Pacific Islander boy in the other. The boy was maybe six years old. His legs were dangling straight down alongside the upper part of the lifeguard’s legs. The lifeguard’s arm was around the boy’s waist. His neck was bent all the way back, mouth open wide. His eyes were open but staring blankly upward. His arms dangled limply.

Despite the condition of the child, I didn’t immediately realize that a rescue was in progress because there was no sense of urgency. He was only holding the child with one arm.  He wasn’t looking at the child.  He stopped at the edge of the pool and just stood there looking around.

My mind raced with questions: Why is the lifeguard just standing there? Why isn’t he performing CPR? Is he looking for his supervisor or the kid’s parents? Were the hell are the kid’s parents? What is happening?!

I noticed lots of other parents watching the scene with the same disbelief. My water bottle was overflowing. It jarred me. I started walking quickly toward the lifeguard. The boy began to vomit with his head back and thought, he’s going to drown on his own vomit.

Part of the reason I was so alarmed is my history with lifeguarding. When I was in college I spent my summers working as a lifeguard.  I worked at both public pools and private country clubs.  I also spent some time working as an assistant coach for a youth swim team.  I have been through the American Red Cross’s lifeguard and first aid/CPR training.

I asked the lifeguard what he was doing. He said that the child was "alert." Another staff member with a walkie-talkie arrived. The lifeguard shifted his weight and the child slumped down. The boy was not crying or whimpering at all. I thought he must have hit his head. Maybe he was in shock. He should be crying.

A senior lifeguard had arrived, "searching" for the child’s parents. But no horrified mother or father rushed to the scene. The child must have wandered off.

I raised my voice at the lifeguard. Why weren’t they tending to the child or making some sort of announcement? One responded, “We don’t know what he is, we don’t know his language.”  

My voice got even louder: "Why aren't you asking for help!?”  

A man who seemed to be father arrived. He had a quick exchange with the lifeguards and ran to retrieve the child’s mother. The three carried the boy to a nearby restroom and set him on the ground outside the men’s room, trying to get him to sit up.  

Several people around began speaking. One woman said that she had seen the child floating beneath the oblivious lifeguard. Another woman had yelled at the lifeguard to point out the child. I said the lifeguard was a deer in the headlights. No time during the six days we had been at the resort did I ever see any of the lifeguards participating in any safety drills. I heard the faint sound of a siren heading toward us.

First responders arrived and slowly surrounded the boy. We couldn’t see anything. Moments later they were pushing the boy’s mother in a wheelchair. The boy was laying in her lap, wrapped in a blanket. His eyes were closed and his face was twisted in a painful grimace.

The senior lifeguard and the staffer with the walkie-talkie were standing outside the men’s room. I asked to speak to their manager. The senior lifeguard told me he was the assistant lifeguard manager.  

I calmly told him that what I witnessed told me his staff was completely unprepared. The two men apologized to me. I told them that I wanted to share what I had seen so they might evaluate their training procedures. I told them that I was shocked by the entire incident and that it did not demonstrate to me the kind of concern for the guests and staff training that I would expect from a Disney-operated facility. They apologized again.  

A few minutes later the assistant life guard manager come over and asked me if I would give a statement on what I had seen.  But he did not have any kind of incident report for me to fill out. He pulled out his iPhone and asked me to type a statement. I asked him why he wasn't using his iPhone to record videos of witnesses.

“Great idea,” he said.  

I talked to him for a few minutes and I saw him take a statement from one other guest but then he was gone. I sincerely hope that they little boy is fine. I can’t stop wondering about his condition. But I also hope that the Disney company will do something more to prepare it’s lifeguards for life-threatening situations.  

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