I can still remember the first time I took Jessica swimming. It was on a day out at Butlins when she was ten months old. We’d been in the pool about ten minutes before I became concerned about how blue she was. By the time we managed to get out of the pool, she was very blue, breathing hard and was decidedly floppy. Thankfully my sister was there, waiting with a couple of warm towels. Once Jessica was warm and dry, her colour and breathing started to improve although it was probably another ten minutes before she was back to a more normal colour. She was fine, but it was a scary moment for me.
Jessica, like many other heart children, gets cold very easily in the water due to her poor circulation, which makes it harder for her to maintain her body temperature. Her colour can change very quickly when she is in the pool and the transition from “slightly-blue-but-not-too-concerning” to “very-blue-need-to-get-out-now” can be alarmingly swift. It can take also take a while for her colour to improve once she is warm and dry.
The blue episodes are worrying for us as parents and we’re used to analysing Jessica’s colour – they can be frightening for other people around us. We once went swimming with Jessica at a church open house event. Two of the church members were qualified doctors and they were very concerned by Jessica’s colour when I got her out of the pool. I was quite glad they didn’t see how blue she got in the time it took for me to strip off her wetsuit and start drying her off!
Wearing a wetsuit can help keep heart children warmer in the pool and the charity Heartline provides these free of charge to heart children, and parents can request a new one as the child grows. Getting Jessica a wetsuit has helped a lot with allowing her to spend a little more time in the pool although up until this year, she’d never managed more than about twenty minutes or so. Being in the pool means keeping a constant eye on Jessica’s colour – her hands and feet are often a little blue anyway but when her face starts looking cyanosed, then I know she needs to come out. We make sure we have extra towels to dry her off and even on the hottest days, long-sleeved tops and cardigans ready to help her warm up.
When Jessica’s preschool had a beach day, I practically wrote an essay in her home-preschool diary about what her key worker needed to watch for and the need to get Jessica warm and dry quickly. To my surprise, I was told that Jessica had been absolutely fine in the paddling pool (despite being in a long-sleeved swimsuit rather than a wetsuit, having outgrown the last one) and her colour had been fine.
Last week, we went swimming twice with Jessica’s cousins and she managed an hour in the pool both times before needing to get out – a huge improvement on the previous year. It’s encouraging to see that her heart seems to be working well enough for her to cope well with the temperature changes of being in cool water and wonderful to see her enjoying herself in the pool. Now that she is older, she can also tell me if she is okay. I was watching her in the paddling pool at Auntie Fizz’s over the weekend and just as I was starting to get concerned about Jessica’s colour, she said “Mummy, I get out now. I cold and tired.” It is reassuring to know that she will let me know when she’s no longer coping well in the water.