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Nearly 70 Percent of Kids Drown During Non-Swim Time

Parents work to raise drowning-prevention awareness

It’s a club they never wanted to belong to, but now they hear the stories all too often.

Mike and Jane Garner were having a birthday party for their son Jaylen four days shy of his second birthday. They were at Jane’s sister’s house and after the kids had swam all day, they ate dinner. Jaylen was on Mike’s lap, waiting for the birthday cake.

“We were about to cut the birthday cake and it never got cut that night,” Jane said. “And our lives changed forever.”

Jaylen crawled down from his dad’s lap and his parents thought their little boy was following his big brother. But about a minute later, Jaylen was found in a hot tub, near the pool. CPR was started, but Jaylen died as he was being care-flighted to Cook Children’s.

Tragically, Jaylen’s story is similar to many others at Cook Children’s and around the nation. So far this year, five of the eight drownings deaths seen at Cook Children’s occurred while the child was not actively swimming. From 2013 to July 17, 2018, 69 percent of the drowning deaths at Cook Children’s happened while the child was not actively swimming. That number matches the national number exactly, according to The Child Abuse Prevention Center.

“We’ve talked a lot about how parents need to ‘Lifeguard their child,’ but that doesn’t stop once a child is out of the water,” Sharon Evans, Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator at Cook Children’s, said. “I think what happens a lot of times is that parents are on high alert while their children are in the water, but then they tend to let their guard down once the day is over and it’s time to leave the pool. Unfortunately, that’s when children are most at risk for going back into the water without anything to prevent them from drowning.”

Drowning Prevention Tips

Drowning prevention around and away from the pool begins with adult supervision. Adults should be in arm’s reach of the child while in the water and at any pool parties, assign a “water watcher to know how to swim.” Other steps parents can take at home to help protect their children from drowning once they get out of the pool include:

  1. Never take your eyes off of your child until you know he or she is safely in the house or car. Many of the drownings seen at Cook Children’s take place after children take off their life jackets and then jump back in the water while parents are getting ready to leave and don’t realize what has happened.
  2. Make sure the life vests are with U.S. Coast Guard-approved labels.
  3. Install four-sided fences with self-latching gates. Four-sided isolation fencing around home pools could prevent 50 to 90 percent of childhood drowning and near-drowning incidents, according to studies.
  4. Make sure fences are at least 4 feet (preferably 5 feet) high with a self-closing/self-latching gate that only opens out.
  5. Reroute any doggie doors that have direct access to the pool area.
  6. Pool and spa covers should be sturdy enough to support the weight of a child or multiple children.
  7. Latches should be properly locked whenever you aren’t using the area.
  8. Take family CPR lessons.
  9. Use door and window alarms. Make sure to alarm any windows and doors that open directly into the pool area. Pool surface alarms are also a great option to alert if you if anyone falls into the pool. You can even put an alarm on your child that will alert if you he or she is submersed.
  10. Update pool drains and cleaning systems.
  11. Make sure your children know they aren’t allowed to swim without you being present.

Jane and Mike recently joined other families at Cook Children’s to talk about their children who fatally drowned for a round-table discussion that was recorded for a video.

“You have these moments where you are like, ‘Wow, you know, you let your son down.” Though I told him what to do and how to do it, it always falls back on me,” Mike said. “I should have done this or that. You know we made those mistakes by taking our eyes off him at those critical times. And that was one of those critical times for us. So basically it haunts you every day. I know it does me. There’s not a day I wake up and don’t think about my son. Because I can hear him in my head saying, ‘Dad where were you? Why weren’t you there?’ He relied on me so much. And I know he did.”

Two recent drowning deaths have gained national attention thanks to two mothers coming forward to share their story.

Morgan Beck, the wife of Olympic skier Bode Miller, hopes to bring awareness about child drownings, specifically on how fast a tragedy can occur and the importance of children drowning during non-swim time.

Beck’s daughter Emeline, 19 months old, drowned at a neighbor’s pool on June 10th.

“It’s been 37 days since I’ve held my baby girl,” she wrote on Instagram. “I pray to God no other parent feels this pain.”

Nicole Hughes, whose 3-year-old son Levi died the same day as Emeline, has also become a public face on this issue. Hughes’ 3-year-old son, Levi, drowned after a day at the beach. The family returned to their rental home, which also had a pool. After a shower and dinner, Hughes and her son split a brownie.

“"I had walked out back on the balcony," Hughes said. “When I looked over the second floor he had somehow gotten out a heavy door, down a flight of stairs and was face down in the deep end."

Despite Hughes and her husband’s, a doctor, efforts to save their child by giving CPR, Levi died at the hospital.

“I don’t know why no one is talking about the drowning that is taking place when kids aren’t even swimming,” Hughes said. “When it’s non-swim time.”

To learn more on drowning prevention, click here.

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