Brittney and Bryan Huffty had four sons and a baby on the way, so on January 15, 2016 when Brittney delivered a beautiful little girl, the Hufftys knew their family was complete and perfect.
“I went crazy with the girly things! We had bows, sparkles, glitter and pink everywhere,” Brittney laughed and said.
It wasn’t just Brittney and Bryan that Harper Grace wrapped around her finger.
Bryan’s sister and brother-in-law, Crystal and Dane White, were completely in love with the little girl as well. The Whites, “Tia” and “Unka”, lived down the road from the Hufftys and they took every opportunity to spoil the family’s newest addition.
“Everyone in both of our families had her rotten. My parents, Sue “WooWoo” and Randall “PopPop” McCool, couldn’t tell her no on anything. No matter where she went, she was the princess,” Brittney said.
Brittney had her tubes tied after Harper Grace was born because she and Bryan knew the little girl was the perfect finish to their family and they didn’t want to take one single second for granted.
They had no way of knowing they’d only have two-and-a-half years with her.
On June 16, 2018, the Hufftys, the Whites, the McCools and all of the family and friends who had grown to love little Harper Grace had their worlds fall apart when she tragically drowned in a neighbor’s pool.
Earlier that day, Bryan had taken Harper Grace and their oldest son, Sam, with him to a neighbor’s house to move some horses. While there, Bryan thought Harper was playing on a swing set with Sam, and Sam assumed she’d wandered off to see her daddy.
Harper Grace was used to swimming with her Tia and loved the water, so when she saw a neighbor’s pool she naturally wandered over and got in.
Brittney said, “She had a puddle jumper she was used to using, so she had no fear of jumping right in. She thought she could swim.”
When Bryan found his little princess in the pool, they immediately called 911.
At the hospital, Brittney said, “She had so many machines hooked to her. She looked awful. Her lips were swollen and her eyes were swollen. But as soon as I grabbed her hand her heart rate increased. I knew she knew I was there. Our pastor came in to pray over her while they got her ready to be flown to Jackson. My sister Jamey (Kurtz) drove me to Jackson while Bryan went home to get clothes and make arrangements for our other kids. He got clothes because we knew we would be staying with Harper in Jackson for at least a few days while she recovered.”
But beautiful, little Harper Grace couldn’t recover.
About the next few torturous days, Brittney struggles to recall exactly what happened.
“I do know that I couldn’t comprehend that she was really gone. I remember that I couldn’t speak and had a hard time even breathing. I know I asked the hospital staff to tell my family because I couldn’t say the words,” Brittney recalled.
The Hufftys aren’t sure how they made it through their daughter’s funeral, but they know it was only with the grace of God they even survived themselves.
“Harper was cremated and we gave part of her ashes to Crystal and Dane. That’s how much they loved her and she loved them. I couldn’t imagine leaving them with nothing. I shared Harper with them her whole life and now we still share her with them,” Brittney said.
Brittney and Bryan also knew they couldn’t let Harper’s death be in vain, and every year since their little girl passed the Hufftys raise money to provide swimming lessons to kids in our community. Lana Toney Hand works with them to teach swimming and other water safety lessons.
Brittney is also committed to reminding parents about the dangers of children and pools. “Before Harper drowned, I was just uneducated about all of it. I knew swimming lessons were important, but nothing beyond that. I don’t want any other parent to ever have to go through what we have.”
“When we think drowning, we think splashing around and screaming. That is so wrong. Drowning is fast and silent and it can happen in as little as 20-60 seconds. Most drownings happen with adults present! I want people to really let that sink in,” Brittney said.
“If you have a pool of any depth, you need at least four layers of protection in place. You need doors that lock up high so the child can’t reach. You need door alarms for when the child figures out how to climb and unlock the door. You need a fence blocking the pool with a self locking gate, and a water alarm that sounds off in the house and outside when something falls in the water for when the child learns how to unlock that gate. It may sound extreme, but so is losing a child,” she said.
Brittney also warns people about the most common safety measure parents use, and that is floaties.
“Parents assume floaties are enough. I did, too. I thought our puddle jumper was amazing. It gave me the freedom to let my kids run and play in the water and I didn’t have to be right there touching them. It kept them above water and they could have fun,” Brittney said.
She wants people to be aware that using floaties gives children and parents a false sense of security. Children who spend most of their time swimming in the pool with puddle jumpers or floaties believe they are swimming unassisted, since no one is holding them. So they come to develop the belief that they can stay above water without the help of these floatation devices.
Brittney wants parents to know that starting at a very young age, even infancy, we need to be teaching babies to float on their back. She said, “If Harper would have known how to float on her back, she would still be here. She could have floated until her daddy noticed she was in the pool. It is such an important skill.”
She also advises that until your children can swim, ditch the floaties and use constant contact supervision.
“That text or that quick phone call can wait. I know you’d rather be working on your tan in a chair beside the pool, but you have got to be in the water beside your children at all times. It may be a hassle, but so is burying your child,” she said.
The Hufftys have been able to provide swimming lessons to an average of ten children a year, with lessons costing $75 .
With the third anniversary of that tragic day approaching, Brittney said, “I hope one day to do even more to honor our sweet girl. I hope she continues to be a blessing to people and I really hope our pain can save someone else from making the same mistakes we did.”