Almost four years ago on an ordinary Friday in June, 17-month-old Brayden Zieg drowned in the above-ground swimming pool in his family’s backyard.
Brayden’s parents were home when he and his 3-year-old brother, Nathaniel, unexpectedly sneaked out the back door while playing. Their mother, Michelle Zieg, was three months pregnant and fatigued with morning sickness at the time.
Zieg said leaving the house without an adult was unusual for the boys, but like any other toddlers, they were always on the move.
“I was so sick that day. I just wasn’t high on my game, and kids are so fast. I don’t care who you are, it’s impossible to keep your eye on them every single second. It just happened so quick and so quietly,” Zieg said.
Alarmed by the quietness of the house, Zieg sensed that something was wrong. A moment later, Nathaniel came back inside alone.
When asked where his brother was, Nathaniel pointed to the backyard. It was there that Zieg and her husband, Jake, discovered the unthinkable.
Zieg said she believes that if she knew then what she knows now, her son would be alive today.
With the help of her sister, Lauren Sheldon, Zieg of Summerville founded the water safety organization Because of BRAYDEN in her son’s memory. The letters in her son’s name stand for Building Resources and Awareness of Youth Drownings Through Encouragement and Networking.
“We wanted to do this because of the realization of how fast this can happen. Children can drown in bathtubs and toilets and mop buckets. It happens to too many families, so we want the community to know what they can do to stop it,” Zieg said.
Zieg said her mission is to teach other families the tips she’s learned that could have saved her son’s life.
She said an alarm on the family’s back door would have notified them sooner that the boys had left the house. The family used their new pool only twice before Brayden’s accident, but they shouldn’t have waited to put up a barrier between it and the house. They should have remembered to remove the ladder on the side of pool so the child wouldn’t have been able to climb in so easily.
Zieg said her husband wishes he was certified in CPR instead of being talked through the procedure by the 911 operator until paramedics arrived.
“My husband did the best he could with the CPR, but he still feels like that’s something he could have done differently on his part,” Zieg said. “Anybody and everybody should learn CPR. You never know what can happen, or when you may need to help your own family or someone else.”
Perhaps most importantly, swimming lessons, even at 17 months, could have taught Brayden how to turn over onto his back, buying his parents more time to find him alive.
To prepare for the summer, Because of BRAYDEN and area fire and rescue personnel will teach families these and other tips at an annual Water Safety Day on Saturday. The event will include face-painting, a jump castle, games, food vendors and a silent auction. The group also is raising money to provide scholarships for swimming lessons.
“My goal isn’t to scare people from swimming or to bash the water. I love the water, I love swimming and I want my kids to love that, too. But they also need to know how to stay safe,” Zieg said.
Water Safety Day will be 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Car Pros Plaza, Old Trolley and Miles Jamison roads, Summerville. Visit www.becauseof brayden.org.