SAN ANTONIO – Parents of a 3-year-old boy who died in an accidental drowning are now speaking out in honor of their son and to raise awareness for others in the community.
April and Marvin Chang lost Mitchell Chang last February after he was swimming at Love To Swim School during a date night event.
"It has been tough," Marvin Chang said. "There is definitely a large piece missing from our lives. Our other son has been affected by this as well."
The couple said instead of using that night's event for a date, they used it for the sake of their sons.
"We had been going to Love to Swim school for lessons for about nine months," April Chang said. "We wanted them to have fun because it got to the point where they were kind of getting tired of swimming back and forth for lessons so that night was a chance for us to say 'look guys, you can have some fun while swimming.'"
April said because of the safety measures staff were always stating to them, they trusted their sons' lives in the hands of the staff.
"We didn't want to be far away," April Chang said. "The plan was to leave them there for 30-45 minutes and then go and grab them. We were so close to coming back and being there to grab them."
April said that is when she got the phone call she will never forget.
"You never want to get that call as a parent," April Chang said. "It was the worst call a parent could get. And you will never ever forget that call. Never."
"I just remember her saying 'San Antonio Fire Department' and at first we were thinking that we left the stove on and the house was on fire or something," said Marvin Chang. "Then all of a sudden she (April) started screaming, 'Baby, we have to go! Baby, we have to go!'"
The fire official was at first hesitant to tell them what had happened.
"He said Mitchell had an accident and that we needed to go to the hospital immediately," April Chang said. "I asked did he break his arm or something and after I was able to convince him to tell me what actually happened, we ended up beating the first responders to the hospital."
That loss broke both April and Marvin Chang's heart.
"You hear all the time about parents who have lost their child," Marvin Chang said. "How horrible it must be and you don’t ever think this could happen to yourself and the way we lost him. Who would ever think a child would drown at a swim school? It is just unbelievable."
Now the family embraces the time they had with their son.
"We were so blessed to have had him for three years. He was such a loving and kind little boy. He was so fun and always energetic. He would just be skipping down the halls at the hospital with Marvin was working singing his little songs. One of my most proud moments is when he brought home a kindness award after one of his friends fell down on the playground. He stopped what he was doing and was by her side until she was OK. He would always say that. If other kids were scared he would lean over and say its OK. You could just hear him say that. It is OK."
They said their other son, who is now 6 years old, is learning to adjust.
"He lost his best friend," April Chang said. "He lost his built-in playmate. It was really and truly like him losing his twin because they were so similar in size. Mitchell was so big for his age. It got to a point where people would ask if they are twins and my oldest son, Evan, would be quick to say no, he is my DD, which is younger brother in Mandarin. They were just inseparable and he is having to adjust to a new life. He is learning to be just Evan."
"We have to face the fact that as he gets older, he is going to forget," Marvin Chang said. "He is going to forget how good of friends his brother was. My heart breaks for Evan more than for us."
To cope with the devastation, April and Marvin Chang started the Mitchell Chang Foundation.
"We have been trying to refocus," said Marvin Chang. "We wanted to do something meaningful not only to honor Mitchell’s life but the community as well."
"Just around the same time, we heard that the city bought the Classen-Steubing Ranch to turn it into a park and we wanted to be involved," April Chang said. "The Mitchell Chang Foundation was developed because we were thinking of things to do and still keep the spirit of Mitchell. He was all about fun.
Some of our happiest memories were on the playground and if families can bond together in honor of Mitchell, then that would be amazing."
The plan is to build a pirate-themed park which is estimated to cost between $250,000 and $300,000.
"Mitchell was all about pirates," April Chang said. "He didn't believe a toy was a toy unless it had a sword in its hand. If he could see what we are doing, he was so excited. He would want to play on it so much. He would be so happy that all of his friends are involved."
The family has already started the process of building a smaller more modest playground that is soon to be installed in the neighborhood Mitchell and his brother grew up in.
They now want to raise awareness about parents being more educated when it comes down to swim schools.
"Don’t be afraid to ask those questions. Do the staff have enough training? What kind of training? How are the certified and through who? Make sure there is always a lifeguard. I think so often people who work for swim schools get to a point where they aren’t paying attention as much as they should. These are children’s lives and you should take that to your heart because of a mistake, and it is a lot to put on a person, but one mistake can end a life. It is a very serious job."
They also want parents who are in their same shoes to stay strong while continuing the good news of your child.
"You know in the very low days, you think there is no right for the world to go on without Mitchell," Marvin Chang said. "Then other times you accept that this is just how it has to be and we have to make the most of it. We have to keep pushing because we still have Evan. We have to be strong for him."
"I would just say to any parent that has experienced a loss of a child to know just because your child was taken away from you doesn’t mean their life didn’t have meaning," he said.
To learn more about the Mitchell Chang Foundation and how you can help, visit their website at https://themitchellchangfoundation.org/.