x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Mother tells of dark day she lost her little Shahd

The parents of Shahd al Harthi hope her death by drowning will prompt changes in community pool policies.

Shahd al Harthi, left, who died last week. On the far right is her sister Reem.
Shahd al Harthi, left, who died last week. On the far right is her sister Reem.

ABU DHABI // When Shahd al Harthi, four months shy of her third birthday, died last Thursday night in Al Rahba Hospital, her father Ahmed was by her side.

She was also surrounded by other family members and hospital staff who had grown attached to the little girl who had spent three weeks in a coma.

But her mother, Fatima, was at home, praying for her youngest daughter and unaware Shahd's situation was deteriorating.

"I was with her every day in the hospital, and when I was not there her father would be there, and I would call him every half-hour to check," Mrs Fatima said.

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"But he couldn't tell me she was gone. He knew she was getting worse that day and kept me away with endless excuses: that hospital visiting hours were over, that too many men were visiting her, that she was getting better and doctors were doing tests on her."

Shahd died at 10.40pm. No one told her mother until the next day.

"My husband couldn't say the words. He made my father tell me on Friday morning," she said.

Mr al Harthi had seen his wife suffer for three weeks, ever since the drowning accident on May 6 that left their daughter in hospital. He could not face giving his wife the bad news.

"Shahd started getting worse on the Saturday before she died," he said. "She would develop a fever and her kidneys began failing. Then her lung collapsed. She was on a life-support machine. I could not say these words to her mother."

Mrs Fatima, pregnant with her fourth child, which is due in August, asked to see Shahd one last time before she was buried in Bani Yas Cemetery on Friday afternoon. She was taken to the morgue.

"I kissed her goodbye, on her forehead," she said. "Now when her sisters wonder where Shahd is, I tell them she's in heaven. They think she is travelling, they don't understand."

The family lives in a large home filled with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. One of Shahd's grandmothers, Um Awad, said she was thankful for the support a large family can provide in hard times.

"We are a large family, yet when one tiny member departs it shakes us all and we feel the void," she said.

The official cause of death, according to a statement released by Seha, which manages Al Rahba Hospital, was "multiple organ failure due to hypoxia from drowning".

And although the day Shahd drowned will forever be remembered as a dark one for her parents, they are vocal about the details of what happened, adamant that no parent should ever have to experience what they went through.

"I was at a local community swimming pool where I like to take the children often. It's a chance for them to have some fresh air and play, and they love the water," Mrs Fatima said.

Shahd, who especially loved the water, was splashing in the children's pool with her sister Alyazi, 6. Two other children were in the pool. Her other sister, Reem, 4, was sleeping indoors.

"Alyazi asked for a drink and I thought it would be safe to take her," Mrs Fatima said. "There was a lifeguard sitting there watching the kids, and the pool is just too difficult to get out of. I always have to carry the children in and out of it."

She stepped inside for what she is sure was less than 10 minutes, confident that her daughter was being watched. When she returned, Shahd was no where to be seen.

When Mrs Fatima saw her daughter face-down in the base of the adult pool, she screamed.

"The lifeguard moved then. She dived in and brought my daughter out."

One of the guests at the pool performed CPR on Shahd.

"I called my husband; he arrived at the same time as the ambulance. Doctors said that Shahd must have been in the water for at least 26 minutes, and that she was brain-dead from lack of oxygen."

hkhalaf@thenational.ae