From Grief to Action: Live Like Jake

live like jake

A Palm Beach Gardens mom devotes her career to childhood drowning prevention

Seven years ago, Keri Morrison suffered any mother’s worst nightmare. Ever since, she’s been transforming personal tragedy into a life-saving movement.

On Nov. 30, 2013, while on Thanksgiving holiday in New Smyrna Beach, Morrison’s 2-year-old son Jake slipped out the back door of her sister-in-law’s house, wandered onto the family’s dock, and fell into the Intracoastal. Morrison was nursing her 12-week-old daughter Julia at the time. Her husband Roarke immediately took his Jet Ski on the water, recovered Jake and drove him to the hospital, but it was too late.

“I still deal with the guilt of failing him,” Morrison says. She’s wearing a blue wristband she designed in honor of Jake, which never comes off. “And anyone can tell me all day long, ‘you didn’t fail your son,’ and it just goes in one ear and out the other. … It doesn’t mean I was a bad parent; it just means I was not educated correctly on drowning prevention.”

At the time, Morrison was working remotely for an investment advisory firm in New York. Within five months of Jake’s passing, she had begun a new full-time venture, Live Like Jake, a charity that raises awareness of childhood drowning, the No. 1 cause of accidental death in children ages 1 to 4.

In its six-plus years, Live Like Jake has raised $1 million and provided 2,000 Swim Scholarships in 37 states, providing funds for financially strapped families to enroll their children in the Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) program.

Unlike traditional swim lessons, it is hyper-focused on safety: It teaches infants how to self-rescue, even when weighed down by heavy winter clothes, which Jake was wearing when he fell off the dock.

Despite its meritorious mission, Live Like Jake has sparked controversy. A 2015 YouTube video of Morrison’s then 6-month-old daughter Josie showing off her ISR training and floating—and crying—for nearly two minutes in a supervised pool setting went viral. It earned more than 2.5 million hits and more than its share of outrage.

“I would rather have had [Jake] cry during ISR lessons and have him save himself,” Morrison says. “We always say, a crying baby is a breathing baby.”

The publicity helped spread the word about Morrison’s mission. She was invited on “Fox & Friends,” and has appeared on media outlets in four countries. Donations, raised in part by an annual 5K run/walk in Abacoa, are helping Morrison establish an above-ground teaching pool in Palm Beach Gardens.

The experience of running the charity, Morrison says, has gone a long way to saving herself; in the wake of Jake’s death, she says she was living “minute by minute.” “And the pain never goes away,” she adds. “You just learn how to deal with it. You learn how to shove it aside. It’s my therapy helping these families.”

This story is from the November/December 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.