Judah Brown Project info@judahbrownproject.org
Judah Smiling

Judah’s Story

Judah Smiling

Judah Levi Brown was a lively, happy, curious, and adventurous boy. He was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired firecracker, who was always into something and usually into everything. He loved life completely and soaked up every bit of it he could, as often as he could. His love of life was infectious. You just couldn’t help but smile when he was around. He was a kind and loving boy who always wanted to know everyone’s name. He loved zebras, elephants, paw patrol, chocolate, and spending time with momma, daddy and his 6 siblings.

He was our water baby. He absolutely adored the water and would play in it all day, if momma would let him. Knowing this, we got him swimming lessons early-at his age, all we knew that was available were “mommy and me” classes. We watched him closely around water. We used flotation devices with him. We did all we knew to do to make sure he stayed safe, especially around water. We never would have imagined that we did not do the right things to protect our boy.

We still cannot believe or process the absolute confusion and horror of the day he died. 

We were at a friend’s BBQ at their apartment pool, and all of our kids were swimming. Judah had a puddle jumper (floatation device) on, because I thought it would help keep him safe. Us moms were pool side, watching the kids as they swam. After around 20 minutes of playing in the water with his siblings and their friends, Judah was cold and got himself out of the pool. He asked his daddy for a drink and his towel. After several unsuccessful attempts to wrap him up in his towel with his puddle jumper on, I decided to take it off of him, so I could dry him off properly. It was the worst mistake I ever made.

Once I got him warm and wrapped up in his towel I helped him find a chair to sit in, next to me, but Judah wanted my chair and he tried to push me out of it. I remember laughing and telling him that he was being bossy. I didn’t know that those would be the last words he would ever hear his momma say to him..

I finally settled him down and turned to tell my friend something, before scanning the pool and counting my other children’s heads. I looked down to check on Judah and we wasn’t there. He had somehow slipped away from his chair without anyone seeing and got back into the pool without his puddle jumper. It would have been only a minute or so since I had last seen him out of the pool, next to me. My friend and I jumped up and ran around, frantically looking for him and calling his name….”Judah….Baby boy….JUJU!!”

Several minutes passed before I found him in the pool, just past the stairs….completely submerged and lifeless in the water. He was halfway to the bottom of the pool. I froze. I just….couldn’t…move. I couldn’t think. All I could do was stand there, shaking uncontrollably, screaming his name. “JUDAH! NOT MY BABY….Oh GOD, please don’t take my baby…NOT MY BABY…”

We still cannot believe or process the absolute confusion and horror of the day he died.

My friend rushed past me and took him out of the water. His limp little body was patches of purple and blue. He wasn’t breathing and we couldn’t find a heart beat. My friend called 911 while my husband and hers took turns giving Judah CPR until the ambulance came….nine minutes later.

I shrieked at them to move faster. Everything…everyone was moving so slowly and I couldn’t understand why they weren’t running to save my baby.

Someone told me later that they were.

At some point, the paramedics were able to get his heart going again and we made the long, awful drive to the best pediatric trauma hospital in Houston, where he would spend the next two and a half days in PICU, in critical condition and on life support.

He was in cardiac arrest for, they guessed, around 35 minutes, most of which was time they spent resuscitating him. The news from doctors wasn’t good from the start. They told us that he was without oxygen to his brain for so long that he had less than a 30% chance of survival and even if he did survive, he would be severely brain damaged and dependent on machines for just about everything, for the rest of his life.

I heard what the doctors were telling me, but I could not understand their words. I could not make them penetrate my brain. I could not understand that my vibrant little boy, so full of life, could be splashing with his brothers and sisters, kicking me out of my chair and then, less than an hour later, be lying on a hospital bed in a coma, unable to even maintain his own body temperature by himself.


All we could do was wait. We watched in agony. We held each other, as we held vigil over our precious child. I held his cold little limp hand and cried, as I begged him to move it….just a little…just give me a sign….anything to let me know that he was still there and ready to take on this fight. The strong little boy I knew, who climbed up my chest in the moments after his birth, had to be able to fight this. Dear God….let him fight this.

All along, the doctors had seen a slight reaction in Judah’s left pupil, indicating that he still had some sort of brain activity, and if there was brain activity, there was still hope.

For the next day and a half, they kept seeing the reaction….and then, it faded. All reactions were gone. The MRI’s tried to confront my husband and I with the truth we were refusing to see. Judah’s brain could not withstand the damage it had suffered. He was gone.

The hospital staff allowed Judah’s siblings to come and see him, one last time, and then they completed their official brain death assessment. He failed it. They did another, 12 hours later, and he failed that one too. In between those assessments, they did a test, to see if any blood was flowing into his brain. There was none.

Judah had gone into cardiac arrest for the third and final time. His beautiful little heart just couldn’t handle any more, and it gave out. 

They pronounced him brain dead and we were quietly led into a cold, numb office, where we would begin the process of giving his brave heart and precious organs to other boys and girls who needed them.

Judah’s doctor interrupted the process to inform us that Judah had gone into cardiac arrest, but had been resuscitated again.

A few minutes after that, we saw a bunch of staff in Judah’s room, running around, and heard one doctor yell, “This is too much for his body. I’m calling it”. Judah had gone into cardiac arrest for the third and final time. His beautiful little heart just couldn’t handle any more, and it gave out.

Judah died at 9:51pm on Sept. 26th, 2016. We buried him that next week. We were, we are and we always will be completely devastated. He was the youngest of our 7 kids. He was our only child together. He was our last baby. He is our baby. He will always be our Judah-bug.

When I was sitting in the PICU, helplessly watching my son die, I learned that drowning is the number 1 cause of accidental death in children ages 1-4. I learned that it’s number 3 in ages 5-19. I learned that 77% of drownings happen to boys…..and I got angry. I got angry that the first time I was hearing these things was when my child was in the hospital, on life support….dying…He was becoming one of those statistics before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to save him.

Why didn’t I hear this from pediatricians? Preschool? Why wasn’t it in any of the many parenting books I always relied on to help guide me through his life?

…I needed other parents not to go through the hell I live each day.

Mom’s can’t take their babies out of the hospital when they are born, unless there is a properly placed car seat in the car. We hear all about car seat safety from the time we learn we are pregnant. But drowning kills more children under 5 than car accidents do. Why are we not even addressing this major killer of our children?

I was livid.

Sometime during the time we were in the hospital I got a Facebook message from Judah’s preschool teacher. She wanted to do a fundraiser for our family, to help us with the medical bills that were going to be astronomical from all of the care Judah had needed. What started out as a small fundraiser, ended up blossoming into the Judah Brown Project. His teacher took the helm and built a foundation for our little boy, when we just didn’t have the strength to do it ourselves.

I told her I needed other parents not to go through the hell I live each day. I told her I wanted pediatricians to have and give the information they needed, to keep the children they see safer around water. I told her I wanted all of the first points of contact for children-pediatricians, teachers, caregivers, and parents to know how quickly and easily drowning can happen and I wanted this message spread as far as it possibly could be.

Through that we began developing our water safety pamphlets, which tell parents and caregivers all of the layers of protection that a child needs, to stay safer around the water. We started by handing them out to anyone who would take one.

Our pamphlets are now in over 350 pediatric locations in the Houston area and around the country. They are being passed out to parents daily. We have ambassadors in multiple states, including many in our home state of Texas, who help us spread our message with pediatric caregivers and families.

We now raise funds and provide survival swim lessons for children whose parents cannot afford them. 

We go into schools, libraries, people’s homes, doctor’s offices….anywhere we can, to provide training to children and also to caregivers and professionals, on what drowning looks like, how easily and quickly it can happen and how to keep children safer around the water. We attend children’s festivals, expos and events, to tell our story and reach more families with our message. 

We hand out water watcher tags and talk to parents about the need for appropriate supervision of their children around water.

We provide low to no cost CPR classes to anyone 8 years old or older.

We currently honor nearly 200 children who have passed away from drowning by sending care packages to their families every year on their birthdays, to remind them that their children have not been forgotten.

We are involved in advocacy and recently got the Judah Brown Drowning Prevention Act passed in the state of Texas. This law prevents homeowner’s associations from being able to make any rules against homeowners putting up safety fences around their pools, to keep children safer around water.

We learned, after our tragedy, that it only takes 30 seconds for a child to drown and that drowning is very often completely silent. It does not look like it does on TV. There are no splashes, no noises to indicate that it is happening. It happens almost entirely underneath the water line.

Not many people know that puddle jumpers give kids a false sense of security. They don’t know that children under the age of five can’t comprehend that it is the puddle jumper that keeps them floating and not their own ability. The use of the puddle jumper during swim times makes children brave and unafraid to walk into the water without it on. It teaches them confidence around the water before teaching them competence in it. The puddle jumper puts children in the drowning position (vertical) in the water and creates muscle memory for that position, which creates a situation where children can drown even faster when they get into the water without it on.

Not many people know that there is a difference between survival swimming lessons (your child being able to save themselves, if they were ever to fall into the water) and traditional swimming lessons (strokes of swimming) and that children under the age of five don’t generally have the upper body strength or the ability to coordinate their arms and legs well enough to successfully learn and use traditional swimming strokes to save themselves, if required to. Our children can be and need to be taught to roll-over-to -float, which they can do as soon as they can sit up well on their own (6-7months old) and then be taught a swim-float-swim pattern (once they reach 1 year old).

Most people don’t know that it takes multiple layers of protection to truly keep a child safer around water because if one layer fails, you need the rest to hold strong.

I did not know these things. Most people don’t know these things. 

Judah Brown Project exists to change that. We exist to save little lives by spreading Judah’s story and by holding up his legacy in the hearts of children and their parents, as far as we can possibly reach.