Swimming pool with stairs
Credit: Chutima Chaochaiya/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Frankie Delgado, a vibrant four-year-old from Texas, tragically died earlier this month after getting knocked over by a wave during a Memorial Day weekend trip. As CNN reported, it wasn’t the fall that killed him, but rather a silent killer known as “dry drowning.”

“He had fun the rest of the day,” his father, Francisco Delgado, Jr., told CNN, but a week later the boy took his last breath while lying in bed with his father. Doctors informed the grieving parents that their child had water in his lungs and around his heart.

Dry drowning, or secondary drowning, can happen quickly. As the Washington Post reported, while the affliction is very rare, it can strike hours or even days after a child has left the water.

“In a normal drowning, a swimmer will aspirate a lot of water into their lungs as they struggle in the water,” said pediatrician Purva Grover, at the Cleveland Clinic. “In dry drowning, the larynx goes shut as a protective response. No water gets in, but no air gets in either.”

The Cleveland Clinic notes that dry drowning can occur when a person breathes water into his or her lungs and it collects there. The fluid then causes difficult or rapid breathing that can make a “crackle” sound.

“Within an hour, you will start seeing those respiratory difficulties,” Dr. Grover said. “Secondary drowning can be severe enough that a child can end up on a ventilator.”

Grover said if a child has a near-drowning experience he or she should immediately be taken to the hospital, even if they seem fine. Alison Osinski, a water safety expert and president of Aquatic Consulting Services, told CNN that symptoms can include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, lethargy, fever and an unusual mood change.

While young Frankie’s death is beyond tragic and heartbreaking, the family’s decision to share their story and grief with the world appears to have already saved another child’s life.

According to CNN, two-year-old Gio Vega became ill after inhaling water at a Colorado community pool. His father, Garon Vega, said he had read about Frankie's story and recognized the same symptoms in his own son.

“I feel like I needed to reach out to the parents of little Frankie and tell him, I don't know how to word it but, their little boy saved our little boy's life,” Vega told a KSAT12.