By Lisa Nickchen, Editorial Contributor
In just a single moment, everything can change. It can go from a sunny afternoon to the darkest day imaginable. For Marissa and Johan Moolman, that moment came on a Sunday in March 2018 — the day they found their son floating lifeless in their backyard pool.
Until that point, it had been a typical weekend day. The couple was catching up on work around their Dr. Phillips home and taking turns looking after their only child, 9-month-old Kaden. He had just started crawling and was busy exploring.
“He was just starting to get the hang of it,” remembers Marissa.
She was in one part of the house and Johan in another. Each thought Kaden was with the other parent. Instead, somehow, he scooted away from both, eventually finding his way out a door and into the swimming pool. How Kaden got the door open, they don’t know, but suspect one of their two dogs had managed to unlatch it. How he ended up in the pool and for how long, they don’t know either. It wasn’t until Johan walked outside to get something and was headed back in that, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something in the pool. It was Kaden floating facedown two feet below the pool’s surface.
“At that moment, my whole life stood still,” Johan says. He remembers feeling like he had weights on his legs as he ran to pull Kaden out.
He was blue. He wasn’t breathing. He had no pulse.
“In our heads, in that moment,” recalls Marissa, “it was over.”
Frantically, they called 911 and began CPR. First responders arrived and continued working on Kaden, finally restoring a pulse. When told Kaden was being taken to Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, they knew “we were going somewhere designed to help him.”
Each year, the emergency room at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer sees 80–100 submersion cases, and about 6 percent of those children do not survive. Nationally, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1–4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For every drowning death, it’s estimated that five children receive ER care for submersion injuries.
At the hospital, every minute felt like an eternity as the couple waited while the ER trauma team took over. Kaden’s condition was critical, and the outcome still unsure, but after a few hours, his parents were finally able to see him. When they started talking to him, his toes wiggled — a short-lived glimmer of hope.
“It was important to keep Kaden sedated to take some of the load off his heart and lungs,” explains Dr. Lawrence Spack, the pediatric critical care physician with Orlando Health Arnold Palmer who helped care for Kaden. “As long as we make sure we’re delivering oxygen and blood flow, these organs have the ability to repair themselves and recover.
“But the brain, as unique as it is, does not have that ability to recover from such a traumatic event,” says Dr. Spack. “So, there was particular concern about his brain.”
Kaden spent a total of 10 days at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer — six in an induced coma. It was on that sixth day, when Kaden was weaned off the ventilator and his MRI showed normal brain activity, that his parents could finally say out loud, "We made it. Our son is going to be okay.”
When Kaden went into the hospital, he was a very active child: crawling, pulling up, standing. But after lying in a hospital bed for 10 days, he had to relearn it all. He did it in four days, and since then, has continued to hit all his developmental milestones. He continues to follow up with his doctors every few months, but there are no limitations on what Kaden can accomplish.
“The joy of having Kaden back, and knowing we all get a second chance, is just overwhelming,” says his dad. “Kaden’s going to grow up with so much potential, so much love. The world is his for the taking.”To read other patient stories on why they chose Orlando Health, visit OrlandoHealth.com/Stories.