A former classmate recently shared some heartbreaking news on Facebook, and it hit home.
I wanted to write about his tragedy to raise awareness of the horrific accidents that happen to children around water and how they can be prevented.
Lauren Reinke-Breen, another 1997 graduate of St. Barnabas Elementary School, posted that her cousin, Ashley Allen, was mourning her 2-year-old son, Vincent, who died while on a family vacation in Florida.
Vincent drowned in a family pool on March 25.
One minute his parents were inside changing him, him and his one-year-old brother, Luca, grabbing clothes from the dryer. The next day, they searched the house for Vinny, eventually finding him in the pool.
As any parent knows, it is impossible to monitor a child every second. Children can fly away in the blink of an eye.
The news about Vincent was horrifying to say the least, but Ashley and her husband, Dave, are already working to prevent similar tragedies.
Ashley, originally from Oswego, learned the Infant Swimming Resource self-rescue courses, commonly known as ISR, at an Orlando hospital.
Young children, including babies under the age of one, learn to roll over the surface of the water so they can breathe until help arrives. When they are older, they learn to swim.
In Florida, water is everywhere and pediatricians often promote water safety to families.
Ashley and her family, who now live in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, had never heard of ISR.
I also had no idea what ISR meant until two years ago when my niece, Dani Styler, started taking such classes.
Dani, who just turned 6, lives with autism. She is always on the move and she loves the water.
Our family is lucky enough to have a summer cabin on a small lake in Michigan, and if Dani is awake, she wants to be in the water.
Of course, with Dani’s joy comes extreme fear among her parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. This means that Dani is basically wearing a life jacket from the time she arrives at the lake until the time she is back in her car seat to drive home. This means making sure the cabin doors are always closed, lest Dani fly into the water. We thought about installing an alarm.
But luckily these days Dani knows how to float face up, with a big smile on her face. And if she’s in a pool or a lake, she knows how to swim to the edge of the pool or to a dock.
It’s all thanks to the CAST Water Safety Foundation in Forest Park, where Dani and her brothers, Leo, 4, and Teddy, 1, are taking lessons.
It’s shocking to watch videos of the three of them being thrown into the water – with an instructor by their side – but it’s amazing to see them rolling onto their backs and swimming to safety.
CAST has done wonders for our family, so much so that when my wife Brigitte and I mourned our stillborn child in January 2021, we decided to have the baby’s obituary include a request for memorial donations to CAST. . It was my late mother’s suggestion, and a good one, as Mom always was.
I can’t stop thinking about those SRI courses since I heard about Vinny Allen.
Brigitte and I have four children, and enrolling them in classes at CAST was on our to-do list.
According to officials, besides birth defects, drowning is the leading cause of death in the United States for children under the age of 4.
Ashley and Dave were horrified by this statistic.
“It’s so crazy to me that this number one cause of death is preventable,” Ashley said. “If only we had known [ISR] Classes.”
They are now determined to make sure other parents know about ISR.
The Allen family has opened a GoFundMe account, and proceeds will support the creation of a nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness and making SRI lessons accessible.
They haven’t chosen an official name for their organization – it’s taking some time – but it will pay homage to Vinny, a little guy with an infectious smile and a love of dinosaurs and construction vehicles.
Dave works in construction and he helped build the house next to his family’s.
Sometimes Vinny was “cranky,” Ashley said, but the moment he got out and saw those construction vehicles at work, he perked up. He even rode one with his dad and took it for a ride.
If someone used the wrong term for a construction vehicle – perhaps saying excavator instead of bulldozer – he corrected them.
Construction vehicles led the procession for Vinny’s funeral on April 2.
It was a little way to honor a boy who knew his ABCs and the names of the dinosaurs at age 2.
“He made a huge impression on everyone he met,” Ashley said, “because he was so smart, so cute before his time.”
Although bittersweet, the comfort of Vinny’s parents can be found in the fact that their son has saved other people’s lives before.
After being rushed to a Florida hospital, Vinny’s heart stopped. But, as her parents cried out her name, her heart started beating again.
This allowed Vinny to be transferred to another hospital.
Although Vinny never regained his brain activity, doctors were able to save his organs. Vinny’s heart, liver and kidneys were donated to transplant recipients, and his lungs were donated to research.
The couple will always find a little comfort there.
As expected, Ashley and Dave’s loved ones have rallied around the couple’s nonprofit efforts. Family members are helping with the GoFundMe account, and Ashley’s mother, Michele Mattix, a labor and delivery nurse, is now focusing on SRI training certification.
However, it takes time – about eight weeks – and money – between $8,500 and $12,000, according to infantswim.com, the SRI website. Families wishing to enroll in SRI courses must also consider time and money issues; prices vary, but classes can cost around $75 per week.
Proceeds from the GoFundMe account will help meet these challenges and even pay for transportation to classes if distance is an issue.
I’m sure right now all the clichés are ringing true for the Allen family – they’re living a parent’s worst nightmare and they keep playing the pretend game.
But, I know that other clichés are true. If their effort to start a nonprofit saves a child’s life, it will be worth it.
For more information, visit gofund.me/567cb6b6.