Preventing Tragedy in the Water

Groups work to keep kids safe in water.

The pool tragedy in Irving adds to a disturbing trend this summer in Fort Worth.

The emergency department at Cook Children's Medical Center has seen 24 near drownings just in June.

Six children went home the same day, while 18 others were admitted to the hospital and needed more care.

"We're fortunate none of these have been fatalities, but just because you survive a drowning doesn't mean you're gonna survive back to your baseline status," said Corwin Warmink, M.D., the medical director of the Emergency Department at Cook Children's Medical Center.

Keeping kids safe in water is the work of the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition. Free classes teach children self-rescue skills.

"So, if they were to fall into the water, they would not panic. They could flip onto their back, call for help, tread water and make it to the side and pull themselves out,' said Pam Cannell, one of the founders of the nonprofit coalition.

Parents learn safety skills, too, and hear over, over - supervision saves lives.

"Active supervision,' says Dr. Warmink. "You can't be doing three other things. You gotta be focused on that pool and watching that pool and nothing else."

"You cannot go to the swimming pool and bring a magazine or text or look at your phone," says Cannell. "You have got to pay attention."

The experts also warn that drowning happens quickly. Seconds matter.

Cannell says emergency workers tell her they hear the same thing from parents every time they get called about a child in the water.

"Every time they respond to a drowning, the parent says, without fail, 'I only turned my back for two seconds. We have that our mantra. 'Two seconds is 2 long to turn your back on a child in water,' " warns Cannell.

"Someone can drown in the time it takes to send a text message, check a hamburger," adds Dr. Warmink.

Drownings happen faster than most people realize and quieter.

"Drowning doesn't look like drowning that we see on tv and the movies where someone is flailing or screaming help, help," says Dr. Warmink. "The person may, at most, tilt their head back, maybe try to ladder up, but they won't call out for help and it can happen in a matter of seconds."

Jacquelyn Kotar, the aquatics specialist at YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth, describes the frightening stages of drowning from the first few seconds where the victim is panicked.

"The child that can't get to the wall starts to panic and go limp with those big eyes looking up at us" to the final stage of "cardiac arrest which is in the first three to five minutes. At this point, CPR is the only way they'll be resuscitated."

"It's tragic. You see families' lives ruined from something that's totally preventable," said Dr. Warmink.

"It's heartbreaking," said Kotar. "I wish we could get the word out that teaching swimming is important. It's a life long skill. Something every child should have access to."

The Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition offers free classes to teach life-saving skills. And, YMCA branches in Fort Worth and Dallas work to make swimming lessons affordable.

Scholarships are available in Fort Worth, says Hope Caldwell with the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth. "The scholarships (also known as financial assistance) are provided through grant funding and our annual fundraising. Anyone can apply for financial assistance and the assistance is granted based on need."

A news release from the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas explains its free program: 

"For the sixth summer the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas Make A Splash program will take life saving skills to thousands of children in apartment communities. Make A Splash works to decrease the number of swim related fatalities in minority communities by providing swim lessons to children at no cost. The Make A Splash program, takes place in nearly 150 apartment community pools across North, South and West Dallas, Irving, Vickery Meadows, White Rock/East Dallas, Richardson and Plano. Make a Splash is a swim lesson outreach program provided at low-income apartment communities. Many times children are left unsupervised in apartment communities around swimming pools. Using apartment community pools, YMCA Dallas staff actively engage and teach children from area complexes to swim. In 2014 alone, the Dallas YMCA offered these lessons at 142 apartment community pools where 3,500 kids were taught to swim by Certified YMCA instructors." 

"Start teaching our kids how to swim and educating parents on supervision," says Kotar the veteran lifeguard.

Emergency director Dr. Warmink also stresses:

  • Put up barriers around pools at home to limit access. "Imagine the pool in your backyard is a loaded gun," said Dr. Warmink. "You wouldn't let that be out there with easy access. So, four-sided perimeter fencing with locks. You can't just let kids have access to those pools."
  • Keep a close eye on kids while they are in the water. "Half of all drownings in children happen within 25 feet of an adult or someone supervising them. So, just because you are in the area, isn't enough," said Dr. Warmink. "You need active supervision. That means my only job is to watch that water."
  • Learn to swim
  • And, learn CPR. "The younger you can learn and teach a child how to swim, the better. The better the outcomes are. Learn CPR. It's something that the quicker the response, the better the outcome."

The splash in the pool is the sound of summer - and so is the tragic truth that drowning is preventable.

Tips for Safe Swimming This Summer 

  • Bring a buddy: don't swim alone even at public pools or lifeguarded beaches.
  • Never leave young children unattended near water and never trust a child's life with another child.
  • Young children and inexperienced swimmers should always wear U.S. Coast Guard-Approved life jackets.
  • Establish rules, and always enforce them. Don't let children play around drains or suction fittings. Also, don't let children have breath-holding competitions.
  • Be aware: Cold temperatures, currents, and jagged rocks at rivers and lakes can make water dangerous.
  • Always wear a life jacket on a boat. Most boating fatalities occur from drowning.
  • Don't drink and swim. Alcohol impairs balance, coordination, and judgement.
  • Sign up for swimming lessons if you've never had them.
  • Always swim in areas supervised by lifeguards where available

(Source: Red Cross)

For more information on drowning prevention, click on the following websites:

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