An attentive mom from Florida is warning other parents about the signs of “secondary drowning” after her young daughter nearly died days after spending time in her grandmother’s pool.
As Elianna Grace played with the end of foam noodle in the water, the 4-year-old from Bradenton, Florida, inadvertently swallowed a small amount of water through her mouth when a friend blew into the other side.
“She must have inhaled when the other person blew the water out. So it just, I mean, she inhaled it immediately and she vomited instantaneously the same exact time,” her mother, Lacey Grace, tells PEOPLE. “I was very, very worried at that moment. But I kinda thought we would see pretty serious signs of something more serious right away, and we didn’t.”
While the vomiting concerned her, Lacey continued to monitor her daughter, and increasingly became comfortable as she watched Elianna jump right back into the pool and carry on as her normal self.
“When my husband came home from work, he had his bathing suit on and he was ready to get in the pool, so she just jumped right back up, got in with him,” she recalls. “She was eating, she was playing. I mean, everything a four-year-old does, she was doing it.”
But as time passed, Lacey would soon realize Elianna wasn’t fine after all.
On Monday, two days after playing in the pool, Elianna came down with a fever that prompted her school to ask Lacey to pick her up early. Still, it didn’t seem as if Elianna was experiencing anything too serious.
“She was just tired. Nothing really else. Just tired. She was just laying on the couch not doing much,” Lacey recalls. “On Tuesday, I kept her with me all day, and she just kinda sat and colored.”
Elianna returned to school on Wednesday, and again officials called Lacey to pick her up. That’s when Lacey remembered an article she read a year before about 4-year-old Francisco Delgado Jr, who died days after he inhaled water when he was knocked down by a wave. Maybe, she thought, Elianna could be experiencing the same thing.
Meanwhile, doctors at a local urgent care discovered Elianna’s oxygen was low and her heart rate was high. By then she was shivering and purple spots were appearing on her skin.
They were immediately sent to the emergency room, where doctors performed a scan on Elianna’s chest, where they saw inflammation and an infection. Eliana was then sent to Saratosa Hospital, where doctors gave the young girl antibiotics to treat aspiration pneumonia and chemical pneumonitis.
“I was so nervous,” Lacey remembers. “It was the first time that my husband and I were like, ‘What would’ve happened if she wasn’t here?’ I thank God we brought her in.”
Days after receiving the antibiotics and being placed on an oxygen mask, Elianna was finally able to leave the hospital on April 21.
Elianna experienced “delayed” or “secondary” drowning, Lacey says, which happens when water enters the lungs and causes them to swell or become inflamed. Symptoms, like a fever, can show up hours or days later, according to ABC News.
Just like Francisco’s story, Lacey hopes her daughter’s story can serve as a warning to other parents to watch out for symptoms when their child has taken in water.
“I would just pay extra attention, then immediately get them checked out if they show any signs of a fever,” she says. “Every time pool season comes, we need to just be reminded that this can happen. Be on the lookout. It’s a super, super freak thing, but it can be horrible if you don’t know.”