NOVATO, Calif. – Some Novato parents have a message about children’s swim parties.
That is unless there are lifeguards and supervision.
Naomi Tseggai turned 9 on Thursday, yet she is unable to eat, speak, or walk, after a horrible pool accident.
“We want her to feel she’s part of the family,” said Tseggai’s mother, Ghenet Tseggai, while carrying a birthday cake into her daughter’s room.
Naomi’s five brothers gathered around, and the family sang “Happy Birthday,” with Naomi’s twin brother, Asher, blowing out the candles.
Left with brain damage from a near-drowning on Sept. 8, 2019, Naomi can breathe unassisted and her eyes are open, but she does not respond.
“Naomi, go ahead and blink your eyes, Daddy loves you!,” exclaimed her father, Mulughietta Tseggai, looking for a sign that she feels her family’s affection.
Naomi was adept at sports, swimming included, and a class leader at Loma Verde Elementary School, until a pool party at a Novato condominium complex.
“She was very excited to go, she took two swimsuits, she was choosing her bag, she was happy to be there,” recalled her mom tearfully.
Photos that day show children in the community pool and lined up in a group.
It was Naomi’s best friend’s birthday party, but not a large group, no more than 10 guests.
When Ghenet Tseggai arrived to pick Naomi up, she found total chaos.
“She was at the edge of the pool and people were trying to do CPR, and I jumped in, and then paramedics arrived to take her,” said Tseggai. “It was the worst day of our lives.”
Naomi had been underwater for several minutes, and barely survived, spending months in pediatric ICU and acute rehabilitation.
Four months later, she was able to come home.
Her father fears helium-filled party balloons contributed to Naomi’s accident.
He has seen security video – still in police possession – that shows the children inhaling helium from balloons to alter their voices. Naomi does so as well, but she is the only child in the water.
When she breathes in the helium, the video shows the balloon fall forward while she tilts backward.
Mulughietta Tseggai believes she passed out before slipping under the pool’s surface.
“Naomi falls down to the backside and after that, she doesn’t come out of the water.”
At the time, the other children had moved on to the party room, and no one noticed Naomi missing.
Another resident of the complex, chasing a ball for his son, spotted Naomi in the shallow end and called for help.
“This was preventable and people need to be aware,” laments Tseggai. “If somebody’s not around, and not protecting them like in Naomi’s case, this can happen.”
Teachers at Loma Verde, fond of the family and heartbroken at the tragedy, are among supporters on a GoFundMe page for the family.
It is raising money for incidental medical expenses and treatments not covered by insurance.
“You hold onto the memories of who she is,” said Sara Cofiell, who was Naomi’s kindergarten teacher and taught her older brothers as well.
“Naomi always wanted to help, one of the kindest hearts you’d ever meet,” said Cofiell.
“She was a ball of energy and every day she came in with a hug and asked how you were doing, and she would have a million stories to tell you.”
Now, Naomi’s siblings make sure to sing to her, talk to her, and spend time with her.
“We are in pain, we are in real pain, we lost the one who was the best person in our house,” said her dad.
Naomi’s parents want other families to realize how quickly everything can change.
“I just need people to pray for her because I believe in miracles,” said mom Ghenet.