On registering her 5-year-old son for a sports program at a Stamford athletic complex two summers ago, a New Canaan woman told staff members that he couldn’t swim, according to a new lawsuit.
Even so, after he entered a warm water swimming pool the child “drifted or moved toward the deeper end fo the pool, where the water was over his head,” according to a lawsuit filed Sept. 10 on behalf of the boy and his parents by attorney Rosemarie Paine of New Haven-based Jacobs & Dow LLC.
“He struggled to keep his head above water, flailing his arms and repeatedly pushing up from the bottom of the pool to rise the water’s surface and gasp for air,” the complaint said. “When he was unable to continue to do so, he began to drown.”
The incident at Chelsea Piers drew national attention after the boy—son of plaintiffs Ahmed Khattak and Maha Shehzad Ashraf—remained submerged for more than four minutes, stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest. After the lifeguard charged with overseeing the area, New Canaan’s Zachary Stein, and other emergency responders were able to restore the boy’s heartbeat, he went to Stamford Hospital and was airlifted to Yale New Haven Hospital, where he was treated in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
Within weeks the boy was discharged to his home, and Stein in September 2017 pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of risk of injury to a minor as well as reckless endangerment. The criminal case has been sealed, Connecticut Judicial Branch records show.
Though he lived, the boy as a result of the negligence of the defendants—Stein as well as Chelsea Piers Connecticut LLC, Chelsea Piers Management II LLC—sustained “severe, painful and permanent injuries,” according to the lawsuit. Those include “severe shock to his nervous system; emotional unrest, followed by panic, followed by primal terror while drowning; aspiration and swallowing of large quantities of chlorinated water; loss of consciousness; respiratory arrest; cardiac arrest; multiple seizures with decorticate posturing; hypoxic brain injury; aspiration injury to lungs; impaired balance; impaired ability to walk; and intrusive memories of the incident and fear of water,” the complaint said.
Due to the defendants’ negligence, the boy underwent extensive medical care and has incurred medical expenses that may continue, and his “ability to carry on and enjoy his usual life activities has been diminished and may be permanently impaired,” the lawsuit said.
The boy also “will have to live for the rest of his life with the recurring memories of the experience of the drowning incident and recovering from the drowning incident,” it said.
“He also lives with the knowledge that he drowned and was resuscitated when he was a five year old child, and this knowledge is now and will permanently be part of his medical history and his life history” and his “earning capacity may be permanently impaired,” the lawsuit said.
Attorneys from Hartford-based Cooney, Scully and Dowling, representing the defendants, could not immediately be reached for comment.
No formal answer has yet been filed in the suit.
The plaintiffs are suing for negligence, parents’ financial losses for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress on custodial parents of a minor child. They’re seeking monetary damages, costs and “such other relief as the court may deem appropriate,” according to the lawsuit, filed in state Superior Court in Stamford.
According to the suit, the boy’s parents learned from police and emergency personnel “that their son had nearly drowned; that he was deprived of oxygen for a significant period of time; that his situation remained life threatening; that he needed to be intubated, [placed] in a medically induced coma, that he [needed] to be airlifted to another hospital; and that he might die or be permanently brain damaged.”
They also “were required to observe their son while he was near death, undergoing seizures and invasive medical procedures” and “were required to live with the knowledge that their son had drowned, might die, might never regain consciousness, or might be seriously brain injured,” the complaint said.
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