It started out as a typical holiday weekend for Dana Parker and her two daughters.
“We had plans to go hang out with my family the next day, for a cookout,” Dana said, about their plans last summer. “Fourth of July is a big holiday in our family.”
But overnight, those plans for a celebration quickly changed.
“I woke up a few times the next morning and thought, ‘Man, the house is really quiet. I’m surprised the girls aren’t up yet,’” Dana said.
Next came a horrifying discovery, as Dana found her oldest daughter Parker unresponsive on their living room floor.
“She’s just covered in vomit. She had definitely aspirated, I can hear it gurgling in her lungs,” Dana said, as she recounted the experience that day. “Her body is cold, I mean it is cold, stiff, she’s not responsive at all.”
Dana then finds herself reeling as first responders hone in on a possible cause. “They just kept saying, ‘Do you think it could be an overdose?’ They’re hooking her up to all these things and they just keep going back, like ‘Ma’am, she’s young, she’s healthy, all of these symptoms point to an overdose,’” she said.
Evidence found on Parker’s cell phone confirmed those suspicions. “In the course of about 25 minutes, she consumed almost 26 shots of alcohol,” Dana said.
“Depending on how old you are, how much you weigh, how much alcohol you’re ingesting, every child is different in terms of the effect it’s going to have on you,” Nicole Belcher, PA-C, a physician assistant at the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at ECU Health Medical Center (VMC).
In Parker’s case, she consumed enough alcohol for the care team at the Children’s Emergency Department at VMC to warn of an unknown outcome.
“They said, ‘At this point we don’t know if she’ll wake up. And if she does we have no idea what condition she’ll be in,’” Dana said. “She was already on borrowed time. I mean, it is literally by the grace of God that she was even still breathing at that point.”
Breathing then – and thriving now. While minor nerve issues persist, the multi-sport student athlete has made nearly a full recovery. And Dana is grateful for the care her daughter received.
“The little things that they do mean more than what they realize. Just the little kind words and taking the time to ask the questions and to say, ‘Hey, are you ok? Is there anything I can get you?’ I would just love to say ‘thank you,’” Dana said.
Now Dana wants other parents to learn from her family’s experience, and to consider how they talk to their children about the dangers of drinking.
“In her eyes, maybe she was drinking responsibly. She wasn’t out on the street, she wasn’t at a party, she wasn’t driving, you know – she’s in the comfort of her own home. She gets curious, she wants to experiment,” Dana said.
“Bottom line, is to have the conversation. I think the earlier we walk about it, the better,” said Belcher. “The reality is, they are going to learn it from you, or they’re going to see it on social media, they’re going to see it on television, they are going to see it on the movies. Being able to have that open communication and being able to model safe behaviors with alcohol is the most important thing.”
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. If you or a loved one needs support, resources or treatment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can help.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is free, confidential and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-662-HELP.
They also offer an online treatment locator: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/