Conway family hopes others learn from granddaughter’s drowning

The grandmother of a 2-year-old who drowned but was revived by medics late in April continues to struggle with guilt, grief and worry but hopes sharing her experience spares another family from a similar struggle.

Gracelynn Heroux, who was placed in her grandmother Connie Beasley’s care when she was 3 months old, drowned April 22 in a pool at their Conway home and was dead for what Beasley said was about 45 minutes before emergency medical personnel “got her heart beating again,” Beasley said.

Beasley said she, a friend, Gracelynn - who she calls Gracie - and another child were outside that afternoon. She walked to the front of the house to say goodbye to her friend, checked on the children who were still playing, then stepped inside the house to use the bathroom.

“Her (Gracie’s) daddy and his friend came in the door and I ran outside to get her and I couldn’t find her,” Beasley said. “I looked across the whole yard, looked in the pool and didn’t see her. I came back inside and didn’t find her so I went back to the yard and looked again. The second time I saw her in the pool.”

Two adults have drowned in Horry County since Gracie’s incident in April.

Conway authorities responded Friday to a pool at The Cove at Coastal Carolina, an apartment complex on S.C. 544, where Kayla Simmons, 26, drowned while swimming. She was pronounced dead at Conway Medical Center.

On Saturday, Myrtle Beach authorities were called to Ninth Avenue North on the beach where Steven Scott Bloomer Jr., 40, was found floating in the water. He died while being treated at Grand Strand Medical Center. According to a police report, Bloomer was in the water with a friend who said he complained about nausea. The friend suggested getting out of the water and told Bloomer to sit on the sand while he went to their area on the beach. When he turned back to the ocean, he said he couldn’t see Bloomer.

Drowning is the leading cause of accidents for children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14, said Beverly Payton of Cochranville, Pa., who is a board member of the Drowning Prevention Foundation.

She said the risk of drowning is the same, no matter the size of the body of water, from rivers to the ocean and swimming pools to bathtubs. She said parents keeping an eye on children is key.

“Even if there is a lifeguard on duty, they need to maintain 100 percent eye contact with their child. Too often parents get lulled into complacency when there is a lifeguard present. The lifeguard is there to only respond to an emergency. Your (the parents) job is to prevent an emergency,” Payton said. “Children often overestimate their swim abilities.”

The American Red Cross is launching a national campaign hoping to cut the drowning rate in half over the next three to five years by teaching 50,000 people in 50 selected cities across 19 states how to swim. Lisa Quick, with the Red Cross, said Myrtle Beach is one of the selected cities and has a drowning rate more than double the national average. A Red Cross survey found 54 percent of all Americans either can’t swim or don’t have complete basic swimming skills, Quick said.

“In our efforts to reduce the drowning rate in Myrtle Beach, Red Cross is partnering with the City of Myrtle Beach’s Recreation Department to teach swim safety,” said Nanci Conley, executive director of the Coastal S.C. Chapter of the Red Cross. “We are committed to working with the city to make a significant impact in swimming safety in our community.”

Beasley said she has faith that Gracie will recover, but continues to struggle with her own emotions.

“Dealing with the guilt that I left her outside for a minute,” she said. “I made a stupid decision. It drives me crazy. It drives me nuts. I should’ve known better than to do that.”

She said Gracelynn never showed interest in the pool and still doesn’t know exactly how she ended up in it.

“She doesn’t go around it. She wasn’t near it. I thought she’d be OK for a minute,” Beasley said. “That was wrong. People say, ‘It’s not your fault,’ but it is. They say ‘It could’ve happened to anybody.’ Well, it didn’t. It happened to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.”

The pool is still in the backyard and Beasley said she doesn’t want Gracelynn to fear the water the day she’s able to swim.

Gracie spent about eight weeks in hospitals, initially being transferred from Horry County to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, then to a hospital in Charlotte, N.C.

The cost of the travel and hospital bills weigh as heavy on Beasley as her guilt. The family created an online fundraiser that can be found by visiting www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/b6j4/please-help-baby-grace.

Beasley said she will never leave a child outside again and hopes other parents do the same.

“No matter how much you think they’ll be OK for a second, don’t do it.” she said. “That’s what I thought that she’d be OK for just a minute. She wasn’t.”

Gracelynn’s recovery is slow and the 2-year-old cannot walk or talk, but otherwise is the same little girl, Beasley said.

“She hasn't changed,” she said. “Physically, yeah. But, she’s still Gracie.”