Andrew Marilley hasnt plunged into a swimming pool for practice in over a month. Thats his longest hiatus from swimming since he became a year-round swimmer at age 10.
The Case Middle School eighth-grader nearly drowned during a USA swimming club practice on April 18 at Magrath Sports Complex on Fort Drum.
He is making a dramatic recovery and says the experience hasnt lessened his passion for swimming or his drive to succeed. Instead, its a fresh start for him.
This is Gods second chance for me, Andrew, 14, said. I want to work harder and be more committed to the sport than I was before.
Besides the Swim Strong Aquatic Club of Fort Drum, a competitive swimming team, Andrew has also been involved with the Watertown YMCA Blue Sharks and competed on the Watertown High School varsity boys swimming team the last two seasons. He has already enjoyed much success, thanks in part to a grueling practice schedule that has him swimming six days a week with only two weeks off during the year.
Andrew was found unconscious at the bottom of the 13-foot deep end of the pool during an underwater swimming drill that night at practice. He likely experienced shallow water blackout, during which a swimmer passes out while doing breath-hold pool laps or dives. Why Andrew went unnoticed for so long has puzzled his parents, William (Bill) and Andrea Marilley, who werent at the pool.
No matter how big and strong and healthy you are, people need to pay attention, Andrews father Bill said. Seconds matter when youre under water and not breathing. Not minutes, seconds.
The clubs activities at Magrath pool were temporarily suspended while an investigation into the accident was conducted by Fort Drum officials.
Swim Strong Aquatic Club head coach Barry Eyestone said he couldnt comment about the incident while the investigation was ongoing. A military investigation has been completed, according to Julie Cupernall, Director of Fort Drum Public Affairs, and no evidence of negligence or liability was found on the part of any government personnel. The clubs temporary suspension has been lifted, according to Cupernall, and there have been no changes to pool policy in connection to the incident.
Bill has resigned from his position as vice president of the Swim Strong Aquatic Club board.
Andrew is undergoing rehabilitation to help return his body and brain activity to full capacity. Although his physical strength is back, he has not been allowed a return to swimming.
I really want to get back in the pool as soon as I can, but I havent been cleared by the doctors yet, he said.
Andrew returned to school over two weeks ago, even though he was initially expected to only study with a tutor at home. He started out with a two-hour day and then took on full days, which left him exhausted.
Cognitively there are some very rough roads ahead, Andrews mother, Andrea, said. His friends may not see it, but certainly we do, and he recognizes it.
Andrew at first complained of headaches and dizziness, but his parents believed the academic atmosphere and associating with his peers would help stimulate his mind. They encouraged him to keep going back and trying.
I think getting that brain firing up again is much needed, Andrea said. Everyones been great, and everyone understands. Teachers are terrific. I think certainly the school community knows whats ahead and will be able to help him with whatever he needs.
EMERGENCY AT THE POOL
Andrew says he doesnt remember what happened that night at practice. Eyestone administered CPR but efforts to get Andrew breathing on his own were futile. He was airlifted to Upstate Medical University in Syracuse and the initial outlook was grim.
Andrews parents drove to the Fort Drum pool, a half-hour trip from their Watertown home, after receiving a phone call from Andrews teammate Joey Ongkingco. Andrew had ridden to practice with Joey and his mother, Dr. Josiree Ochotorena, who is a close friend of the family and Andrews pediatrician. Several minutes later, Josiree called Andreas cell phone, as the Marilleys were nearing Fort Drum, and frantically told her Andrew couldnt be revived and was going to be transported to Syracuse.
The Marilleys drove into the pool parking lot before making the trip to Syracuse. Andrew had already been taken by ambulance to the helicopter pad, and his parents didnt learn much about what happened.
Everybody was just in a state of shock, Bill said.
They didnt rush the drive to Syracuse, which took about an hour and 20 minutes, because they knew theyd have to wait once they got there. They still arrived at the hospital before the helicopter did, probably because it was so windy that night.
Outside the emergency room, they looked up and saw the helicopter coming in, right up over their heads.
Thats really when it hit me what a serious situation it was, Bill said. Its one thing to be told. Its another thing to sit there and see a helicopter hovering over top of the hospital and know your kids in there.
The Marilleys waited in a private room with Ochotorena and her husband Dr. Fernando Ongkingco III.
When the doctor finally came in I was literally on my hands and knees begging, Andrea recalled. I said, Please tell me, please tell me my sons going to be OK.
The doctor was unable to assure the Marilleys of a positive outcome. They learned their son had severe lung damage and severe swelling in the brain. They would have to wait 72 hours to know more.
Andrea recalls the desperation she felt.
Its a mother pleading. I kept saying, I just want my son back, Andrea said. I dont want food, I dont want anything. Just give me my son back and then Ill be fine.
Andrew was medically induced into a coma and received strong muscle relaxers, which paralyzed his body so it could focus solely on healing.
He was moved to the intensive care unit where his parents were allowed to visit him.
Its very difficult, Andrea said. I assumed when I got there I would look at my son and he would go, Oh, Im so sick. But hes on a ventilator. A machines keeping his heart going for him. Its shocking for any set of parents to see their child like that when you know you sent a healthy child out.
WAITING, PRAYING FOR PROGRESS
The chemical reaction that takes place between the chlorine and the water in the lungs can be toxic.
The scariest part about the whole thing was that his heart could be completely fine, and the ventilator could be working, he could be in the ICU, but you can still lose the patient within 48 hours, Bill said.
The Marilleys didnt learn that until after the waiting period was over.
When its your child its like being in the twilight zone, Bill said. Its like youre there but youre not. Time stood still. Id take little catnaps for five or 10 minutes, but the first three or four days there wasnt a whole lot of sleep.
The family went into the ordeal already in need of rest. The day of the incident the Marilleys had driven home from New York City after visiting their daughter, Alexandra, at the Manhattan School of Music. Alexandra, 19, got a ride to the hospital from New York City late that night with three college friends, while the Marilleys daughter Julia, 16, stayed at the Ongkingcos home.
Its amazing what adrenaline did to keep us awake all that time, Bill said. Watching those monitors, thats all I did, the percentage of oxygen, how much his body was oxygenating, the amount of pressure they were giving him in terms of oxygen. I found out what all those numbers needed to be.
Once those 72 hours were up I remember a doctor coming in, assessing him and looking at me and saying, Im very pleased with his progress. Andrea said. He said, Dont get me wrong. You have a very sick boy on your hands. This is going to be a marathon. And I said, Thats OK, I have tons of endurance. Im in this for the long haul.
The family credits the power of prayer for getting them through the agonizing hours.
From the moment we heard, we called one person each and I said, Call and text and email everybody you know and please ask them to pray for Andrew, Andrea said.
Doctors told the Marilleys that Andrew had likely suffered significant brain damage.
Prayer, thats the only thing I asked for, Andrea said. Anything to get my son back, and then it wasnt enough just to get him back. I want my son back, but I want him back the way he was. I want him back healthy and I want him to recognize me and be able to talk to me. Thats what everyone wanted so badly.
Andrew stunned the hospital staff with his progress throughout the ordeal. He regained consciousness after five days, and his stint in the hospital lasted only a week.
I cant say enough good things about the nurses at the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit), Bill said. I cant imagine a better staff of nurses anywhere in the world.
You feel like the luckiest people alive because you know youre getting the best care, Andrea said. They were so knowledgeable and attentive, not only to Andrew but our entire family.
LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY
Once Andrew was awake, the rehabilitation group assessed him, and at first the prognosis was not good. It was expected his rehabilitation would need to take place in the hospital. Only in rare instances had patients made a fast turnaround.
Andrew was one of those rare cases. He was released as an outpatient after one day with the rehabilitation staff.
The entire rehab staff came in and the head of the rehab said, I cant believe what I am going to tell you. We are releasing him as an outpatient. They were clapping and so happy, Andrea said.
I can remember texting one of my friends and I said, I dont know what kind of prayers you people are saying, but theyre working, she added.
Andrew did have difficulty walking at first.
The nurses were just amazed to see him up, Bill said. They were calling him the miracle boy. Of course, I dont know what it was, but we were grateful for it. I think it was the combination of the prayer and the real top-notch staff there.
The family watched Andrews progression as his mental capabilities returned. He exhibited the fascination of a small child while watching the red light on the sensor attached to his finger that kept track of his oxygen level. He quickly discovered how to unplug it so the light would go off. He was reprimanded by a nurse after she had to keep plugging it back in.
It was funny at the time, but I thought, Uh, oh, I have a 6 foot, 170-pound toddler on my hands, Andrea said. How am I going to work this at home?
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT
When Andrew and his parents finally arrived home from the hospital, they were greeted by a neighborhood welcoming party. Balloons lined their street on every mailbox. Neighbors and friends had made signs and had drawn on the pavement, Welcome Home, Andrew!
Friends and family members had prepared meals and cleaned their home, and Andrea remembers how exhausted and hungry they were.
We came home to a very clean home with plenty of food, so we didnt have to do one thing when we came here except eat and go to bed, Andrea said.
The outpouring of support didnt end there.
Lori Peters and Bridgette Keenan organized the Swim 4 Andrew benefit, which was held April 26 at Watertown High School. Peters coaches the Watertown varsity girls team, and Keenans son Andrew is a senior who swam on the varsity boys squad.
The benefit, which included a lap swim and bake sale, raised more than $6,000 in donations for the family to offset medical and travel expenses.
Swimming for Andrew was a perfect outlet and release for his friends, Andrea said. They needed to do this, and Im sure they learned a great deal from the whole thing.
Teammates and kids at school made get well cards and signs, as did competitors from other swim teams, which now decorate the Marilleys living room.
With the addition of the food and gas cards the family received, Bill figures the total amounted to more than $8,000.
My main thing is thank you to the community and everyone for their love, their support, their prayers, the Swim 4 Andrew, Andrea said. Now my brain thinks, How can I give back? And that will always be there. Were just so blessed and so lucky that we have such a beautiful community to support us through this.
Andrew has already accumulated more swimming medals than he knows what to do with. He competed at Eastern Zones with Swim Strong in March. It was one of his best competitions.
We were in a good spot before the accident, Andrea said. He was in a really great place as far as the fitness level and the competitive edge. He just seemed to have everything going for him.
Andrews goal is to someday qualify in the 50- and 1,500-yard freestyles at the Olympic trials. He prefers the long-distance events, with his favorite being the 500 freestyle. The 400 individual medley is also a favorite.
For the school team, Andrew competed at the state meet in March as part of Watertowns 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays. He holds the Frontier League all-time record in the 500 freestyle. That record is not also a school record because Watertown was a member of the Central New York Cities League when Scott Wisner set the mark in the mid to late 1970s. Andrew has his sights on breaking that record.
Hes a very strong, competitive swimmer and certainly that helped with his recovery, Andrea said. It was good that he was healthy going in.
The Marilleys have been focusing on what was gained as a result of the near-tragic experience.
So many lives were affected in a positive way, Andrea said. Just knowing that life is so delicate, and it doesnt matter how strong and healthy you are. Life is a gift.
THE MARILLEY FILE
School: Case Middle School.
Year, age: Eighth grade, 14.
Family: Parents, William and Andrea; Sisters, Alexandra, 19, Julia, 16.
Activities: Band, chorus, Ensemble.