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Family warns of "dry drowning" after child dies days after swimming

"Dry drowning" risk

A family preparing to bury their 4-year-old son wants to warn other parents of the rare condition that took the child's life.

Francisco Delgado Jr. says almost a week after a family trip to the Texas City Dike, he called 911 because his son Frankie stopped breathing, CBS affiliate KHOU-TV reports. The child had shown symptoms that resembled a stomach bug for several days, including vomiting and diarrhea.

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Frankie Delgado KHOU-TV

Doctors found fluid in Frankie's lungs and around his heart, and told the Delgado family Frankie died of what's known as "dry drowning."

Unlike more typical drowning deaths that happened in pools, lakes and at the beach, dry drowning can occur hours, even days, after a person inhales water. The uncommon condition mostly involves young children.

According to medical experts, symptoms of dry drowning – also known as secondary drowning – include trouble breathing, persistent coughing, sleepiness and fatigue, and vomiting.

Dr. Thomas Waters of the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Emergency Medicine told CBS News it can cause a child's airway muscles to spasm.

"They're trying to breathe against those closed vocal cords, which can lead to inflammation, swelling, and fluid in the lungs," he explained. "Another possibility is they get just a little bit of the fluid into their lungs, they recover, but then hours later that again causes inflammation, more fluid, respiratory distress."

He advised parents to be aware of the symptoms and seek medical care if they suspect a problem. "If you have any concern whatsoever, the best thing to do is err on the side of caution and take that loved one to the emergency department," he said. 

Frankie's mother Tara said her son was "full of life" and "for 4 years old, he had a big heart."

The family is in the process of making funeral arrangements for the child. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with the expenses.

"There are no words to describe how heartbroken we are over the passing of Baby Frankie," the family wrote on the page. "He was only 4 years old, he had so much life to live. He was loved by so many people, his love for Baseball was endless. The world lost a beautiful soul."