The tragic loss of her son turned Anna Robbins first to advocacy, then to joining others on their grief journey
She lived through something no mother should have to, and now she wants to make sure no other parent does.
It happened on New Year’s Day — a holiday to celebrate new beginnings.
But on Jan. 1, 2017, Anna M. Robbins, BSN, RN-BC, lost her precious 2-year-old son, Gavin.
At just 2 years of age, Anna Robbins’ son Gavin Lee Robbins drowned in a backyard pool. The loss has driven Robbins and her family to advocate for drowning prevention and pool safety legislation at the Texas Capitol. The children are wearing T-shirts that say #TeamGavinLee.
At the time, Robbins worked at an emergency room in DeSoto. While she was at work, Gavin slipped into a backyard pool in Midlothian and drowned.
His 4-year-old brother discovered the little boy, but it was too late.
“I remember when I first started as a nurse in the ER, my first pediatric code was a drowning, so it’s surreal that the same thing happened to my own kid,” she reflects.
Robbins spent a year in a daze of depression, guilt, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her son Ethan and daughter, Madi, were also suffering, and her rocky marriage dissolved.
Promoting water safety in Texas
After a lot of work to process her grief, Robbins became a crusader for drowning prevention.
In Texas, drowning is second only to birth defects as the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 4. For every child who dies, five more receive emergency care for near drowning. Being underwater for even a short time can cause long-term intellectual and physical disabilities.
Robbins has spoken to several groups about pool safety and was a driving force in the Texas Legislature establishing Drowning Prevention and Awareness Week.
“California, Arizona, Florida, and some other states have legislation that requires a fence around your pool, but in the state of Texas, we only have regulations for public pools in city limits,” she points out. “Right now, there is nothing about residential swimming pool safety, so that’s why I went to my House representative’s office in Waxahachie and said, ‘We need to do something about this. This is a problem.’”
While advocacy groups are working toward fencing legislation in Texas, Robbins acknowledges, “Unfortunately, it just takes time.”
Anna Robbins (center) and her family recently joined with Families United to Prevent Drowning at the Texas Capitol in May 2019 for the occasion of the Texas State Legislature establishing Drowning Prevention and Awareness Week.
A desire to serve others
Today Robbins works as a nurse in the emergency room at Methodist Charlton Medical Center.
“I’m a lot more patient with my patients, and I’m more intuitive than I was before,” she reflects. “My main goal is to help other people who have been through trauma. It’s a big deal to give back.”
Her experience losing her son and helping her family face their grief has shaped the future of her nursing career. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in nursing and plans to be a mental health nurse practitioner who shepherds people through grief and loss.
“I’ve learned the tools that God has given me to cope and push through,” she notes. “I want to share them.”
She believes that people distressed by intense mourning or PTSD need a professional to help them through it.
“It’s a physical thing that happens, and your mental clarity is not there,” she points out. “So you need to have accountability and somebody to guide you to process it and to not make huge, life-changing decisions. For about a year after that type of loss, you are in a fog.”
In hindsight, Robbins feels she, herself, did “stupid things” during that yearlong haze, such as remodeling her home and accelerating her divorce.
She finally found the help she needed through Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step program designed for anyone with a hurt, pain, or addiction.” She also found it valuable to participate in a workshop to honor the memory of her son.
In addition, Robbins discovered that writing and publishing her story on her blog, yournumbersnotup.com, has been therapeutic.
“I want to help people in the aftermath of what they go through after a death,” she says. “There are so many people who don’t have the right coping tools and turn to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. With all of the knowledge I’ve gained from going through PTSD and getting my kids through all of this, I know that if I’m able to help others navigate this process, then that’s what I need to do.”
HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW HOW TO PROTECT YOUR KIDS BY THE WATER?
Take this quiz in our online health library to test your knowledge.
HAVE YOU LOST A LOVED ONE?
Find support through Methodist Generations’ monthly Grief Support Group. Learn more by visiting our site or by calling 214-947-4628.
Methodist Health System’s mission is to improve and save lives through compassionate, quality healthcare. Our Mission to Medicine series shares the inspirational stories of clinicians extending this mission beyond hospital walls to local, national, and international communities.