Real Life

Toddler terror: Trapped in a spa pool

Pulled under by the suction, a quick dip soon became the Sweeney family’s worst nightmare.

Brave little boy Cooper Sweeney loves the water and lets out a loud squeal of delight as he splashes his parents sitting by the pool.

But just a month before, in the very same setting, the three-year-old found himself involved in a very different and terrifying situation.

His arm became trapped in the filter inlet of the spa pool belonging to his grandparents, Sue and Greg Sweeney.

The suction was so strong that it slowly pulled Cooper’s arm inside the filter, until he was submerged under water, forcing panicked family members to hold his chin above the surface to stop the toddler from drowning.

The family tried everything they could think of to release his arm, but it was all without success. It took three firemen to rescue him in a 40-minute drama that still has Cooper’s grandmother reeling from the shock of the accident.

“To talk about it is still very hard,” says Sue of Auckland’s Mairangi Bay. “The incident is still strong in my mind. To see him in so much pain was really tough. We’re thankful that we had a good result, because the outcome could have been a lot worst.”

The incident occurred two weeks before Christmas, when Cooper took a dip in the spa pool with his Aunty Keryn.

Fidgeting with the inlet pump, Cooper managed to squeeze his arm through. The family were alerted when he started screaming.

Even turning off the pump didn’t relieve the suction and Cooper’s arm was pulled deeper and deeper into the hole.

“We were frantically bucketing the water out of the spa, and forcing his chin above the water, and even drained the pool. But his arm was still stuck,” says Sue.

Cooper’s father, Brendon, a marketing manager, was at work 20 minutes away when the drama occurred. His mother, Abby, was at home in a nearby neighbourhood, looking after the couple’s newborn baby, Farrah, now eight weeks old.

Brendon’s mother, Sue, informed him of the incident and he rushed to the scene where three firefighters and two ambulance staff were working with the family to rescue his son.

“Cooper was exhausted from crying when he saw me. I told him to bite my arm so I could tell how much pain he was in as I tried to pull his arm out.”

Brendon called his wife to break the news of the terrible accident. Beside herself with concern, Abby desperately waited for an update.

“It was a really worrying time,” she explains. “I waited to hear the progress and hoped that everything was okay.”

The firemen only managed to release Cooper after drilling into the concrete and making a small hole in the hose. They then squeezed some coconut oil down the hole to lubricate Cooper’s arm and set it free. His arm was severely swollen and had turned black and purple.

He was rushed to Auckland’s Starship Children’s Health, before he was later transferred to Middlemore Hospital to see

a plastic surgeon.

They kept the toddler in overnight so doctors could restore circulation to his hand.

When Abby arrived at her son’s side, she was shocked to see his severe injuries.

“I burst into tears and hoped they didn’t have to amputate any of his fingers. It was critical.”

Miraculously, Cooper’s arm stopped swelling and the normal colouring returned.

He made a full recovery within days – just in time to open his Christmas presents.

“It’s the best outcome possible,” says Abby.

The family are indebted to the Rothesay Bay fire brigade for saving their son, and want to warn other families about being extra vigilant when children are around water.

“We never leave him unattended,” says Brendon.

“It just goes to show how quickly things can go from being a fun time to a really awful situation.”

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